The Natural received a note from Big Vern this morning recounting in exquisite prose the end-of-an-era SA team dinner last night. It was clear that a few of the team had read it before The Freak passed it on to me – it had almost as many salacious side annotations as my fifth form French text.
The Saffa’s had repaired to a fine establishment on one of the peaks outside Cape town with a commanding view of the hinterland. They began their evening with stories of the past, witch doctors, and the African wild in the same way they began their tour around the campfire a month ago surrounded by the snorts of the African plains.
Everything has its cycle. A minute’s silence for South African cricket led by Orlando in honour of Smithy’s career announced the start of the evening formalities. Silence might not be the right word. A big truck from the Castle Brewery was reversing up to the bar at the back of the open-sided restaurant and the SA national anthem played softly in the background. The silence was enough to stop idle chatter or congratulatory glass clinking as Smithy made his way through the crowd of players. He held up his hands to bless the team and to lead the singing of the team song for the last time. In the background a team of fire walkers prepared a bed of flaming coals.
When he had finished there was not a dry eye among the team, not one misplaced sentiment not willingly offered to the cause of Cricket SA. Smithy held up his forefinger, as the Umpires had done to him all summer, “We are still the No 1 Test Cricket Team even without me.” Smithy was in a self-deprecating mood. “Honour it. Keep it! Win! Win! Win!” The feeling of forged steel was so intense it could have been a Boer independence meeting in Jamestown a long time ago. At its end, Smithy slipped off his shoes to tread the bed of burning coals into the arms of other retired SA cricketing greats, JK, GK, and AD as if he was crossing the River Styx to the Afterlife. [Ed. This particular part of Vern’s account attracted the most single word comments from our lot along with the addition of other initials, most connected with general aspects of life – business, unions, sex and religious instruction.]
Alan Donald presented the Awards. Vern was very specific in his account.
The eHarmony All-Rounder Award: Big Vern Philander, for the best lower order philandering with a wooden bat when it really counted.
The Soweto Miners Award: AB, for digging in for a short 6 hour shift at the crease in Cape town and generally digging in when everyone else was in the dugout.
The Harvard Alma Mater Award and The Telegraph Hashish Smokers Nature Photographers Award: Hashim Amla, the only person to watch a first ball fireball onto the grill. Great camera work.
The Easter Island Foundation Award: Faf du Plessis, for laying down a salt circle surrounded by a ‘pack of barking dogs’ to bat as solid as a rock in the last innings of a test series.
The ESPN Statisticians Award: Big Vern, for facing 10 times more balls as a no9 in the 4th innings of a test match than his no1 batsman faced in his last 10 innings.
The Alan Donald Foundation Award: Morne Morkel, for tenderising The Captain’s body to highlight the symbiotic relationship between bowler and physiotherapist.
The Weekend Warrior Award: Dale Steyn, for making the ball going reverse in a few spells with leonine effect after it had been zippered and covered with a honey-smelling lubricant supplied by bikini specatators on the boundary.
The Rock Fisherman’s Guild Award: JP Duminy, for guileless spinning of the ball off a dead track with occasional use of dip.
The Bowlers Batsman Award: Graeme Smith, for getting fewer series aggregate runs than each of the no9, 10 and 11 batsmen.
The Giacomo Casanova Award: Faf du Plessis, for best use of a trouser zipper to scuff a ball, ever.
The Match Fixers Apprentice Award: Hashim Amla, Alviro Petersen (joint) for most buttered fingers when it mattered and for showing no later apprehension of shame, guilt or obligation to atone.
It was late in the evening. Everyone received a campaign medallion, with bar, from the Rhodes Foundation. Jacques Kallis came to the stage to a great stamping of feet and raised Castle glasses to present the final three awards.
The Nelson Mandela Captain’s Award: Jaques Kallis for retiring when he wanted to jointly with Graeme Smith, for retiring after he should have but when he had to in order to preserve his dignity
The Paul Keating Award: Orlando Domingo, for being in a caretaker coaching role for the No 1 Test Cricket Team longer than the average McKinsey consultant hangs around in a dying corporation.
The BCCI Award for Pitch Doctoring: the PE ground staff, for best prepared pitch and reverse swing atmospherics after the 35th over whenever SA was bowling, and for blunting same whenever Australia bowled.
Someone had scrawled at the bottom a few last words in lipstick [Ed. I think The Prof added this after consulting with Sarah, the new Director of Marketing]
The Adidas Cameraman’s Cinematography Award: to South Africa’s Colony of Bikini Spectators, to whom TV viewers, Coaches, commentators, and bikini artistes everywhere are forever grateful.
Vern closed with a quote from an unnamed ex-player “We’ll get the bastards next time!” Apparently, a couple of lions had smelled the Castle brew and sauntered into the tent to join the merriment. A short scuffle ensued. One of the lion’s lost his mane and was found at the bar polishing a cricket ball. AB and Faf sent another packing. He was last seen trying to thumb a lift into town holding a sign “Australian Cricketer in fancy dress.”