Travelling up by train, with incessant interruptions on the tannoy by the ‘onboard supervisor’ and noisy Spanish adolescents boarding at Gatwick, I blanked them all out by recalling my memories of watching South Africa in Test matches.
My first would have been in 1965 at Lords against Peter van der Merwe’s tourists.
I can still recall most of the side: Eddie Barlow in his specs, Tiger Lance, Dr Ali Bacher who became a key if controversial administrator, Graeme Pollock, Colin Bland, Peter van der Merwe, Derek Lindsay, Jackie Botten, Richard Dumbrill, Peter Pollock … and was Atholl McKinnon the spinner?
Colin Bland remains the finest fielder I ever saw.
I remember Colin Cowdrey elegantly driving into the covers and waddling off for a safe single. Bland swooped and a fast return struck the stumps with Cowdrey yards from safety.
I think Bland had 3 run outs in that Test. He would practice his throw against one stump in a hockey net and at Tunbridge Wells from the square leg boundary hit successively all three stumps.
Fast forward to 1995, with the Apartheid era over and South Africa returned to the fold of Test cricket.
In the first Test at Johannesburg Mike Atherton got a peppering from Alan Donald but survived 9 hours at the crease with Jack Russell holding up the other end.
I joined the tour at Port Elizabeth for a draw on a slow wicket. South Africa took the lead in Cape Town.
It was a fine introduction to a country I have now visited five times.
On one occasion I was invited by a family I knew well to their home.
I would have preferred to be out on the town but any preference I had was soon gone when introduced to a Spanish gentleman who prided himself on his cricket library and was a great authority on the game.
Most recently I have gone on some Allan Lamb tours.
Allan is a Capetonian – and therefore likes to party – and you can rely on him to bring interesting cricketers like Barry Richards to the tour box.
I was there in 2016 when Ben Stokes hit 258, despatching the ball to all parts of Newlands.
When I think of South African cricketers, I think of great batsmen like Pollock and Richards and dare I say it Kevin Pietersen, superb wicketkeeping batters like Lindsay, Mark Boucher now coach of the present side and Quentin de Kock and pacemen like Peter Pollock, A.A. Donald and Dale Steyn.
The present crop look more than useful. South African used to be weak in the spin department but perhaps Kesteven Maharaj and Simon Harmer, who has already taken 46 wickets for Essex, might correct that.
Yesterday at Lords it was a question of when would the rains come.
Weather apps were consulted and the met-men forecast early afternoon.
At just after 2.20pm the heavens opened with such a deluge that by 4pm all further play was abandoned.
South Africa had the best of the the morning with England’s batters (bar Ollie Pope) all back in the pavilion.
At 116-6 it looks like only further rain can save England.