Few takers for Soweto

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The Independent Online

With the imminent prospect of another crunch match and the serious possibility of another fine mess, England's players were confined yesterday to the place they have come to know better than any other in South Africa. The hotel complex and shopping mall at Sandton City, some 15 miles north of downtown Johannesburg, has been their fortress, their shelter and their home.

With the imminent prospect of another crunch match and the serious possibility of another fine mess, England's players were confined yesterday to the place they have come to know better than any other in South Africa. The hotel complex and shopping mall at Sandton City, some 15 miles north of downtown Johannesburg, has been their fortress, their shelter and their home.

It is the kind of place that you would never need to leave to survive and, on the other hand, if you wish to survive it may be best not to leave, certainly not alone if walking and certainly not after 6pm when it gets dark. For 34 nights of the 103 they have spent in this arresting country (eight of the players and five of the back-room staff have done the lot), England have been in this custom-built suburb.

On days like yesterday, when it rained incessantly and they were deprived of practice two days before their final group match in the Standard Bank Series, there was a considerable amount of mooching around. It is often said, rightly, of cricketers that too few of them demonstrate an interest in discovering something of the countries they visit, other than whether their cricket pitches are more conducive to seam or spin. It can be difficult here, but there was probably not a general dash yesterday for the offices of Jimmy's In Your Face Tours to have a look round Soweto and its grim mixture of shanty dwellings, without water or electricity, made of discarded corrugated iron and the small, breeze block houses almost cheek by jowl, most of them lovingly tended.

There had been a party in Soweto the previous night in which hundreds joined. It was to celebrate a stunning sporting success - South Africa beating Ghana at football to reach the semi-finals of the African Nations' Cup, that is, not South Africa's triumph over Zimbabwe to reach the final of the triangular one-day tournament.

England could have done with a decent practice before meeting Zimbabwe at Centurion tomorrow in a day-night contest which is effectively a semi-final. They spent the weekend playing golf in Sun City, some two hours away by road. This little trip, their second on tour to the garish entertainment emporium, came after their narrow defeat to South Africa on Friday night. This itself demonstrated something of the new regime of Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain. Others might have insisted on nets and practice after such a loss.

There are no injuries to worry about, though there is plenty of indifferent form. Whoever wins qualifies. If it continues to rain and the match has to be cancelled, England will go through on net run rate, +0.029 compared to -0.124. It does not deserve to come to that, not even in a tournament which has had close finishes and even matches but has lacked quality in both its pitches and batting. They all need to get out of Sandton City.

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