Getting away from the south of England, where the Proteas’ World Cup hopes disintegrated and the weather has generally vacillated between miserable and gloomy, has certainly lifted the spirits and our arrival in Durham was greeted by the most spectacularly blue skies and warm temperatures.
Nevermind the beautiful scenery – rolling hills and pastoral serenity dotted with castles and old farm houses – a far cry from the monotony of the flat terrain of the south.
While the Proteas have had a dismal time on the field and are hurting terribly, they have largely kept their inner turmoil to themselves. On the outside, they have remained cheerful, co-operative with the media and there has been none of the sniping, backbiting or blame-gaming that can occur when a team’s fortunes nosedive. This is to their credit.
The hosts, England, are seemingly not in such a good mood as the pressure on the pre-tournament favourites just to make the semifinals is ramped up.
The local media are full of reaction to Jonny Bairstow having a right old whinge about everything – blaming the media and public for wanting them to fail, the pitches for having somehow changed for the World Cup and even the taxi driver who sledged him.
On the five-hour drive to Durham, I bump into Ben Stokes inside the toilets of a services stop outside Northampton, the day after their defeat to archrivals Australia. He seems okay but does wash his hands very thoroughly as if in an attempt to scrub off the stain of defeat. Then again, South Africans are really in no position to chirp the English.
It is not as if England has been gripped by World Cup fever either though, for most of the locals we meet, the tournament is largely a background distraction. Then again, the country is in the middle of a political leadership crisis that many Africans could relate to, the phrase “best of a bad lot” being apt to describe the various candidates for prime minister.
Almost to the person though, the locals we have met have been friendly and helpful in a country that prides itself on being law-abiding and courteous.
Now that we are up north, the accents are also getting more interesting with the Scottish border 125 kilometres away.
Just as interesting have been the various pronunciations of Andile Phehlukwayo’s name that have been picked up on this tour. We have a new one to add to the list – “Fellow-Koi-Ou” – courtesy of the pressbox announcer.