Apart from anything else, the setting - the troubled Alexandra township - put words like crisis, tragedy and shame into perspective. It really was a match where the occasion meant more than the result.
The first appearance by an official, senior English sports team for more than a decade - and the first cricketing one for 29 years - could not have had a more unlikely setting. It is less than a 10-minute bus journey from the team's hotel in the exclusive Johannesburg suburb of Sandton to Alexandra but it is aeons away in lifestyle.
As the team crossed the M1 motorway yesterday morning they left behind a world of expensive houses bunkered behind high walls, barbed wire and security signs announcing 'Immediate Armed Response'. They entered one where whole families live in one-roomed shacks of rubble and wood with corrugated iron roofs kept on by loose stones and plastic sheeting. The team, their manager, Bob Bennett said, 'were very quiet' during the journey.
But it is not all squalor. There is evidence everywhere of vitality; small traders abound and the residents are frequently well-dressed. Now non-whites can own their own homes, there is a growing band of middle- class property and, backed by the cricket board, some impressive sports facilities.
At one of them, in the heart of the township, Ted Dexter witnessed a gun battle a few years ago but all was peaceful at the ground yesterday. Too peaceful. Much to the disappointment of local officials who anticipated a crowd of 2,000, barely 100 Alex residents turned up for the first such game in any township and were heavily outnumbered by VIPs and media. More attended a funeral at the adjacent graveyard, underlining the realities of township life.
The pitch, carved out of a former rubbish dump, overlooks the shanties and lies opposite the forbidding migrant hostels, the focus of much of the township violence, which dominate the opposite side of the Jukskei river valley.
The boundary was marked by flags of the multi-racial organisation the National Peace Accord - two doves together, one blue, one white - and the spirit of unity was extended to the changing room, an open marquee, which was shared by the two sides.
England, by arrangement, won the toss and batted, with Walter Masemola, the 19-year- old Alexandran fast bowler, opening the bowling with a bouncer that disappeared way down Mark Lathwell's leg side to be called a wide. Six balls later, with one television cameraman still on the outfield at mid- off, Lathwell lifted another short one over the razor-wire fence at backward square leg for six causing a five-minute search among the rubbish for the ball.
But the young man who is the development scheme's jewel had already shown evidence of his pace and four overs later knocked over Lathwell's off- stump for the first of his three wickets.
With the artificial track proving difficult to trust and the outfield lush and slow England slipped to 32 for 3 with Adrian Dale being caught behind for nought and Hugh Morris, after bruising his toe, batting 17 overs for eight. While Alan Wells, dropped on two, battled to 29, Malachy Loye made an assured 38 before falling to Masemola. A series of poor shots followed as four wickets fell for two runs and England finished their innings 10 balls short of their 45 overs.
But batting was no easier for the South Africans. With England's bowlers avoiding the temptation of bowling too short on the bouncy surface and the fielding tight Transvaal struggled to build their innings.
Martin Bicknell dismissed the international opener Mandy Yachad, the Test batsmen Mark Rushmere was run out by Darren Gough taking two to square leg, then Dominic Cork took three wickets for four runs and Gough one to reduce Transvaal to 32 for 6.
But the teenaged Sowetan captain, Geoffrey Toyana, a player with more experience than most on such a wicket, made 23 to create a contest before his dismissal, caught at extra cover, ended it.
The result mattered - no one watching the England A coach Phil Neale's intense observation of the game could say it did not - but, in the wider context, it was academic. Just being here was the important thing.
(England A won toss)
M N Lathwell b Masemola. . . . . . . . . . 9 *H Morris c Toyana b Jacobs. . . . . . . . 8 A Dale c Omar b Laing. . . . . . . . . . . 0 A P Wells c Laing b White. . . . . . . . .29 M B Loye c Toyana b Masemola. . . . . . . 38 S J Rhodes c Nkutha b Eksteen. . . . . . .12 R D B Croft c Omar b Masemola. . . . . . . 7 D G Cork b Eksteen. . . . . . . . . . . . .0 M P Bicknell not out. . . . . . . . . . . .3 D Gough c Toyana b Eksteen. . . . . . . . .0 M C Ilott c Omar b Laing. . . . . . . . . .6 Extras (b2 lb3 w4). . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Total (43.2 overs). . . . . . . . . . . .121
Fall: 1-17 2-18 3-32 4-57 5-97 6-107 7-110 8- 110 9-110
Bowling: Masemola 9-0-25-3; Laing 7.2-0- 10-2; Jacobs 5-1-10-1; Malao 9-1-22-0; White 6-1-20-1; Eksteen 7-2-29-3
TRANSVAAL INVITATION XI M Yachad lbw b Bicknell. . . . . 3 B White c Gough b Cork. . . . . .5 M Rushmere run out. . . . . . . .2 *G Toyana c Ilott b Cork. . . . 23 D Laing c Morris b Cork. . . . . 3 J Nkutha c Loye b Cork. . . . . .1 S Jacobs c Rhodes b Gough. . . . 3 C Eksteen c Rhodes b Cork. . . .21 A Omar run out. . . . . . . . . .2 W Masemola not out. . . . . . . .1 J Malao lbw b Cork. . . . . . . .0 Extras (b1 lb1 w8 nb4). . . . . 14 Total (38.3 overs). . . . . . . 78
Fall: 1-5 2-8 3-17 4-23 5-25 6-32 7-69 8-75 9-78
Bowling: Ilott 7-2-11-0; Bicknell 9-0-28-1; Cork 7.3-3-9-6; Gough 6-1-8-1; Dale 9-2-20-0
England A won by 43 runs
Umpires: K Lavery and S Wadwalla
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