Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Paarl to cash in on Proteas
Cape Town – Some nine years since its last one-day international and a decade since the last Proteas appearance there, Boland Park in Paarl intends making the most of its top-flight cricket fixture there next summer.
The return of the picturesque, rural-character ground to the national team’s roster for the 2011/12 home season was one of the hallmarks of the bumper international programme – featuring visits from both Australia and Sri Lanka – announced by Cricket South Africa a few days ago.
South Africa will open their five-match ODI series against beaten World Cup finalists Sri Lanka at Boland Park, a day/night affair on Wednesday, January 11.
Boland Cricket CEO Omar Henry hopes to lure a crowd of some 15 000 for the occasion, which will be just the ninth ODI ever staged in Paarl and third featuring the Proteas.
The last game there was during the 2003 World Cup, between Pakistan and the Netherlands, while South Africa’s own last appearance came in December 2002, when Gary Kirsten’s unbeaten century powered them to a nine-wicket triumph over the Pakistanis.
The ground has a colourful and sometime stormy past, not being averse to match abandonments because of the dubious state of the pitch, and its slow and low reputation, and also being the venue where then-United Cricket Board president Percy Sonn infamously stumbled out of his trousers at the 2003 World Cup because, to use the words of Cricinfo, “he drank himself into such a state of inebriation”.
In 1994/95, Boland and New Zealand had an embarrassing end to an intended four-day encounter, after one over of day two, as the strip was deemed too dangerous: an eventful day one had seen Boland skittled for 83 and the tourists similarly routed for 86.
Marais Erasmus, now an emerging Test umpire, claimed career-best figures of six for 22 for the hosts that day.
But Henry fervently hopes such undesired occasions are confined only to the annals now: significant revitalisation of the ground, in various respects, is either in progress or looming.
“We have an array of plans for the venue, and aspire to securing an ODI every two seasons from now on,” he told Sport24 on Tuesday.
“Of course we’ve had nothing (international) since 2003 and there was scepticism about the ground: it is true to say that the stadium itself went down a bit, as well as the pitch, outfield and facilities.
“It’s been a long process but things are looking up, and securing the Sri Lankan game is a strong shot in the arm for Boland Cricket and Paarl itself.
“The pitch is now bouncier; you can play shots on it with some confidence – when we hosted the SA ‘A’ v Bangladesh ‘A’ one-dayer recently the locals should have posted 300. And the outfield is more like a carpet now.”
As well as attracting the sports-mad local community, Henry anticipates the height-of-summer ODI luring plenty of Capetonians, for whom the ground is comfortably within an hour’s access straight up the N1.
To Boland’s advantage, presumably, Newlands is unusually not staging any ODI next season, as it has been granted both a Twenty20 international and Test against Australia, as well as the customary New Year Test against the Lankans.
They are also hoping to provide a special train, featuring entertainment and catering as part of a match-day ticket package, for fans from Newlands station to Paarl, via Bellville and Stellenbosch.
“We also want to maximise the existing strengths of the ground, with its great mountain backdrop, to encourage occupancy of the grass banks and a braai and picnic culture.
“We have painted and spruced up the media centre, and may also try to expand it through provision of an extra room.”
Longer-term plans include turning Boland Park into a more multi-purpose stadium, with an athletics track high on the agenda.
“There is a precedent at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) for installing an athletics track in the same season as cricket,” Henry explained.
“It is possible to return athletics facilities back into the necessary (grassed) state for cricket over the course of 14 days.”