England have been on holiday. At the finish of the Third Test, the players, backroom staff, wives, girlfriends and children decamped from the hotel in which they had been staying for the splendidly appointed and equally splendidly named One and Only Hotel. There they have spent three relaxed days before the team fly to Johannesburg today to prepare for the Fourth Test. It can only be hoped that they have not gone so far into the comfort zone that they cannot be extricated come Thursday.
The advertised tariff for the hotel, though England will undoubtedly have cut a deal, is 7,000 rand (£586) a night. This is indeed the lap of luxury. Wives and children, of course, not only have air fares paid to join the chaps but are also entitled to a daily allowance for the length of their stay.
Andy Flower, England's coach, was asked at the post-Third Test briefing whether he was comfortable staying in a hotel where rooms cost more than most Africans earned. He replied in exemplary style. "I am comfortable with it. I am confident that this group of players can keep their feet firmly on the ground. I'm not that comfortable with the comparison to some of the poverty that you experience in Africa. And we've got to be a bit careful making those comparisons. Some of our families went out on the township tour yesterday and if anyone needs to be brought down to earth, that would be a great tour for people to go on." The players merit their break. It is to be hoped that some of them had a peep at a township themselves during it.
Prof's must-see exhibition
On the eve of the Cape Town Test, a group of cricket reporters was privileged to attend a gathering on the Newlands outfield. The genial host was the chief executive of the Western Province Cricket Association, Professor Andre Odendaal. A Cambridge graduate, who played in the rain-ruined Varsity match of 1980, Odendaal is the author of the seminal book 'The Story of an African Game'.
It is a great work, putting into perspective the contributions to cricket of non-white players in this country. Odendaal has helped in assembling an important photographic exhibition which will run at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool this year. 'Beyond the Boundary' is intended to explore the relationship between cricket, culture, class and politics. The game is conveyed as a legacy of British imperialism but also as a means of resistance against it. It opens in March.
Tampering is nothing new
Ball tampering made headlines last week but in Larry Tye's biography of the black baseball pitcher Satchel Paige, he writes: "Spitballs were outlawed in the Major Leagues in 1920, but for another generation Negro League pitchers kept dabbing saliva in a way that made the baseball squirt off their fingers like a melon seed. A little dab of hair tonic did just as well. So did sanding the ball with abrasive emery paper hidden in a belt buckle, or nicking the hide with a buckle, nail, fingernail, wedding ring or Coca-Cola bottle cap."
Hooray for Collingwood
In England's three rearguard actions in their past eight Tests, in which they have secured draws with nine wickets down in Cardiff, Centurion and Cape Town, Paul Collingwood has batted four minutes short of 13 hours for 140 runs while facing 532 balls. What a man.