He’s great, he’s feared ….

… and yes, he’s got a cool beard, Hashim Amlaaaaa.

He's great He's feared He's got a cool beard Hashim Amlaaaaaaa
He’s great
He’s feared
He’s got a cool beard
Hashim Amlaaaaaaa

But greater than he’s beard was the Proteas’ visit to Amsterdam to prepare for the ICC Champions Trophy and their preparation included an ODI against the Netherlands. This provided the opportunity for many Saffas to see ‘their boytjies’ up close and live. Kitman says in 45 years it’s his first live match attendance of his team, and in Amsterdam nogal!

What an exciting and unique outing to be part of the small crowd at VRA Cricket ground in Amstelveen, in Het Amsterdamse Bos.

VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen
VRA Cricket grounds, Amstelveen

Sitting on the small stand (the ground has a capacity of just 4500 spectators), in this beautiful cricket setting felt like watching international cricket at the Irene Oval or some rural venue like, say Bergville or Himeville. There were obviously plenty of South African flags and colours, though most of us (yes, me too) had to wear our Springbok attire, as we don’t own Proteas clothes. Maybe, just maybe the boys will deliver in the final and bring home (err sorry, I mean take home) a trophy, which will force my hand. IMG_0288However, what was more enjoyable than seeing the many Saffas around the stadium was the actual Dutch support for their team in this perceived foreign game. And how the Saffas grouped their neutral friends to be South Africans for a day. In front of us sat a group of international students of which two were South African. There they were, a Swede, two Canadians, two Americans, IMG_0290some-one else and even a Britt, al ‘proudly’ wearing their SA flags on their cheeks. It did take explanation on the nuances of this odd game for the entire day to the Canadians and Americans but on their support for South Africa there were absolutely no doubt.

Cricket is not big in The Netherlands, though they have played cricket at this specific venue since 1939. The die-hard Dutch enthusiasts that were there are all huge cricket fans, passionately supporting their team and seriously hoping for another upset, as they have done in 1994 when they beat South Africa in an ODI. And while pondering this stunning event with my Dutch neighbour on the stands over a large local brew (reminder, the venue is set in AMSTELveen) in the very welcome and long overdue European sun, my said neighbour (to my shame I forgot his name) introduces me to a Dutch cricket legend Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk. So there I am, chatting away (as if I’m a Robin Jackman of some sorts) on the tactics, strengths and weaknesses of the 22 players in action with a guy who has scored a 4 off Allan Donald and who has gotten rid of Brian McMillan through a catch on his day. Klaas-Jan is certainly a cricketer of note; still holding the Netherlands’ individual highest score of 134 not out in the 2003 World Cup and being remembered for his 64 against England in the 1996 World Cup and obviously still a hero in the local cricketing fraternity as was evident in how often he is stopped for a few words where-ever he goes.

The waving flags
The waving flags
and missing a few things from home
and missing a few things from home
Ek en Vlag
Foto courtesy of Amanda Weideman

As with all sport, cricket can be such a cruel reality, as I am sure Dutch number 2 batsman Eric Szwarczynski (ironically born in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa) will still be thinking in weeks to come. After a brilliant spell of 98 against the current number 1 team in the world to then be run out from an excellent straight drive from your batting partner unfortunately through the fingers of Behardien, the bowler, onto the wickets to catch you out of the crease is probably the cruellest way to get your marching orders; a chance in a lifetime gone begging.

Hup Hup Holland
Hup Hup Holland

In my humble opinion (I’m not really on the Robin Jackman level of cricket knowledge) I am however worried that, though they won on the day, the Proteas are not where they should be. Thanx to JP Dumminy, who stood tall for his 150 not out the win ended as fairly comfortable, yet not too convincing. For us, however, the result was academic, as the outing, the sun, the sights and the pure delight was what made the day. This is what needs to be enjoyed when presented, results can be fixed.

JP en route to his 150 not out
JP en route to his 150 not out

While living in Europe, every opportunity must be utilised, and this was no different. We had the opportunity to buy some real Boerewors from http://www.boerewors.nl and chucked in a couple packs of ‘karnemelk beskuit’ from www.beskuitblik.nl too. Can’t leave Amsterdam with just satisfaction and a cricket win under the belt; you need something tangible too even if I clearly know it will not last very long.

Support from far away places
Support from far away places

My sincere thanx to the Proteas for playing this game, getting amongst the fans who don’t often have the opportunity to see them other than on the telly, but who never lose the urge to support and appreciate Proteas cricket. Now, boys, go ahead and grab that trophy, even if your current warm-up against Pakistan doesn’t look too good.

Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up
Not a nice picture, but its only a warm-up

I mean, after all, …. ‘he’s got a cool beard’, you boys are feared.

Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman www.amsterdam-photo-art.nl
Poster also courtesy Amanda Weideman

For the love of The Game

Cricket is not big in Germany, well; even that is probably an overstatement. To say the truth, I expect there are actually plenty of Germans around who have never heard of the game. And if they have, they probably have no understanding or interest in understanding the game. Come to think of it, I often wonder what I see in the game when a match labours on and on with little chance of an outcome and why do I want Stean to continue playing it. But then you get the opportunity to sit and watch and soak up the sun in anticipation for that next wicket or boundary; then I again remember the total relaxation this splendid game provides, and so much more when it is in such an unlikely venue as Bonn, Köln or Hamburg.

‘I don’t like cricket, I love it’

I do like the game and now living in Köln I found a nice cricketing fraternity where I can enjoy and relax next to the cricket oval.

It is mostly at the international schools in the area where a few enthusiasts have taken the responsibility to educate the kids on the finer points of the game and these dedicated guys are doing a sterling job at it too.  So it happened that Stean was invited a few weeks ago to partake in a cricket tournament at the Bonn International School. He represented his school’s team (St George’s International School, Köln) at the trials and the eventual purpose was to represent his province at an upcoming tournament.

Beautiful setting with the river Rhine in the background

Cricket is a summer sport and I’m used to the entire sunhat, sunscreen and cooling down water-spray rigmarole when attending cricket matches. The sun has burnt me worse next to some cricket ovals then at Durban’s beaches! But my first two matches I attended in Germany, both next to the Rhine in Bonn, was much more like attending those mid-winter primary school rugby matches in the Natal Midlands, where you play in the freezing cold early mornings with frost icicles still clinging to the kikuyu leaves, stinging your every tackle and fall while the mist is so thick you cannot see the poles on the other side of the field. Here, even the occasional drizzle of rain was simply tolerated and the matches continued, for it was such a marvellous occasion to have three nearly full cricket teams willing to combat the elements and opponents on the stunning setting next to the Rhine with the hope of making it into the North Rhine Westfalia provincial team.

Magnificent Rhine river boat in the background

And then the team is announced and my son’s name is read! It was worth the getting wet in the rain, freezing your toes in the cold but surviving on garage-shop coffee and he needs to travel to Hamburg the next weekend for the northern Germany play-offs.

 ‘Yes, another good reason for a bit of road-trip!’

Hamburg is just over 400km from Köln and a stunning harbor city, though it’s not located next to the sea. An amazing 45km cruise from the North Sea down the river Elbe navigates those incredibly large container- and other vessels to Hamburg. We arrived late Friday evening, by car, not by container ship that is, and Heleen and I ventured into the Portuguese restaurant area of Hamburg for a late dinner in a lovely little café, enjoying the real Portuguese tapa style platters and cerveza.

Not the mass support I’m used to, but enjoying the lovely weather in Hamburg

That clichéd hobby of people watching and observing behavior from a distance is really a favorite of mine, and so much more when it’s the youth with their ‘love life’ attitudes being watched. This cricket tournament consisted of three under 18 teams, one from North Rhine Westfalia, one from Hamburg and one all the way from Dresden, which included Berlin (how is that for regionalism? Dresden and Berlin is 200km apart but make up one team for the sake of getting 11 boys together for a game of cricket). The boys arrived, all dressed up as if going to a hip teenage party, and then got dressed in their cricketing whites and played some magnificent cricket in what can be described as South African summer weather. This time around it was true cricketing weather. It was a long day of cricket and the sun was beating down to bless us with bright red knees and arms the next day, but it was good! After the long day in the sun, and the last match of the day, the cricketing whites disappear and voila, those hip teenagers are back, all cool and suave with not a hint that they’ve been running, bowling and sweating the entire day long. Gotta luvit!

In my previous blog, The road to Gdansk, I did mention that sport and music makes the world turn. This time, it was cricket, which brought together diversity in Germany, which is worth mentioning. At this great occasion of cricket in Hamburg there were players from South Africa, Australia, Germany, England, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan of which I am certain. Furthermore, we were served a true traditional curry and rice for lunch, which did remind me of my early days growing up in Durban, South Africa, where similar spicy, and full of flavor curries were in the order of the day. And such was the enthusiasm that my personal take-out from that day is that we have now become part of a unique little cricket fraternity in the middle of the non-cricketing Germany that will in future present us with many happy hours next to the cricket oval; an exciting prospect.

Mark Boucher, allow me this opportunity to convey my sympathy with your injury that ended your career prematurely, even though it already did span more than a magnificent 15 years. Your name will remain in the annals of cricket forever and you personally provided me many happy cricketing moments for many years. May you recover soon.