Back in 2007, the last time a Test was played at St George’s Park, the Proteas lost to the West Indies by 128 runs but they came back however to win the next two Tests and take the series.
St George’s Park is the oldest ground in the country and the first Test was played here against England in March 1889. Despite its age, St George’s has only hosted 23 Tests in its history (11 of which have been after readmission) because of its status as a second-tier ground.
That reputation was not earned because the facilities are considered sub-standard (which they are not) or because its pitch is known to be as slow and low. Rather, it is because capacity and crowds now determines where Tests are played.
(St George’s hosted six Tests from 1997 to 2001 before games were moved to the bigger venues. It then hosted a Test again in only 2004 and 2007, when it hosted two).
The Wanderers, Newlands and SuperSport Park in Centurion are now all guaranteed Tests every summer while Durban’s Kingsmead is missing out on a Test for the first time since readmission this summer. Because most of South Africa’s series are three Tests and most summers only involve five, or at most six, Tests Port Elizabeth has to wait its turn.
“The way it has gone, Test matches have become fewer on the calendar and we usually allocate the big teams to big stadiums,” Jacques Faul, acting CSA CEO, told ESPNcricinfo. “But we do like to have Test cricket at St George’s as there is a special spectator experience.”
St George’s is indeed a very special venue and the obvious difference between this and other grounds is the band. The brass instrumentals occupy a section of the grandstand and they play throughout the match. Their repertoire includes golden oldies like Eddie Grant’s ‘Gimme Hope Joanna’ and Ben E King’s ‘Stand by Me’ which are repeated throughout the day. I’m told they add modern tunes annually but I seem to remember it was largely ‘Gimme Hope Joanna’ on repeat though. Not that I am complaining at all.
They are also known to create songs for their favourite players and I have no doubt they will come up with tunes for the two P’s – Alviro Petersen and Robin Peterson. Both are local boys and neither have played a Test in their home-town before.
“I was born in Port Elizabeth and I always wanted to play a Test here,” Petersen, the batsman said while Peterson, the bowler, said it would be “special,” to play a match in his home town.
Having grown up in Port Elizabeth, I recall spending most of my childhood at the ground. Being an avid autograph collector, and living within short walking distance from the ground, I spent many days not only watching matches but also watching teams practice and I have very fond memories of what was essentially my second home growing up.
Test cricket may be an infrequent visitor these days but it will be back. “If we have a Boxing Day Test against India we’d want to play it in Durban because of the fan base there but if we played against, maybe England, we could look at a venue like St George’s,” Faul said.
It is just a case of when it visits again and when it does, I hope to be in the grandstand belting out ‘Gimme Hope Joanna’ with the band.