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Sunday, March 26, 2023

News24.com | Khanyiso Tshwaku | In the age of shrinking economics and matches, outgrounds still matter

The players pavilion at the Oval in Kimberley. (Heinz Schenk/News24)

At Buffalo Park, East London

  • The major centres are where the money is made, but the life and soul of crickeareis displayed through its outgrounds.
  • South Africa has plenty of them and regardless of who plays against South Africa, people never pass up the chance of watching.
  • East London has an out-ground that plays a critical role in cricket development in South Africa.

It’s maybe a good thing that South Africa isn’t as vast and as cricket-crazy as India, for the stadium race there has turned into an art form.

In the race to modernise or build new grounds to get international matches, the majority of India’s stadiums are concrete behemoths with no soul to them.

Gone are the days of the quaint out-grounds with tent coverings and rickety wire fences that looked ready to snap when India was on top of the opposition.

It makes one appreciate the fact that most of our out-grounds, despite their varying conditions, have retained the charm that makes them so adored by locals.

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The City Oval in Pietermaritzburg is just one of those grounds where touching it up significantly to modernise the ground simply won’t do it, unless it’s to install a new drainage system

With its tree in the outfield, it maintains a particular charm that is only found at Amstelveen in the Netherlands in first-class cricket now that St Lawrence’s Lime in Canterbury, Kent, was claimed by father time.

Boland Park in Paarl is the only ground in the country that’s situated in a township, providing an unparalleled accessibility.

Outside of its searing summer heat that makes day games a health hazard, it’s a much-loved stadium and one that’s been heartily adopted by the teams that call it home.

We must remember how the Paarl Rocks turned the ground into a fortress in the Mzansi Super League, using the unique conditions to boss teams.

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There’s also the advantage of Paarl being in the winelands, where visitors can and will have another distraction if the cricket doesn’t tickle their fancy.

Grounds like working-class ones in Potchefstroom (JB Marks Oval) and Benoni (Willowmoore Park) don’t have much going for them outside of what they offer from a cricketing perspective.

Both cities aren’t in the greatest of shape, with the world-class facilities in Potchefstroom ensuring at least they’ll have plenty of forms of cricket coming their way.

Willowmoore Park may be the place where legendary English cricketer Denis Compton thrashed a triple hundred in 181 minutes in 1948, but with SuperSport Park and the Wanderers both within a 100km radius, it tends to be forgotten.

Kimberley folks may be bitterly disappointed that their Northern Cape Heat side failed in its promotion race, but they still have their Diamond Oval ground that remains a beacon of cricket in a harsh economic and climatic landscape in the Northern Cape.

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East London, to be fair, doesn’t have a lot going for it from a sporting perspective outside of Buffalo Park.

Yes, the vibrant schools’ rugby scene takes over in winter and owns the city, but without an anchor DStv Premiership side (yes, Chippa United belongs to Gqeberha) and a Currie Cup Premier Division side, it’ll be hard to see Bafana Bafana and the Springboks coming this way.

This is why out-grounds matter because, for as long as provincial cricket survives and thrives in a by-the-way town, the Proteas will come at some point.

A big team visit also serves as a reminder that the game, despite its flaws, will have small-town seeds that can and will germinate in the long run.

The Limpopo province has never hosted an international match, but it gave SA Dale Steyn while Mdingi gave us Makhaya Ntini.

This is why out-grounds matter, even if they don’t have the niceties that come with the big stadiums. 

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