Aug, 2017: When you think of Africa, what is the first thing that springs to mind? I reckon for many, (including myself) it’s going on safari. It’s sitting at the edge of a waterhole in the back of a Land Rover watching an elephant stride off into the sunset. It’s images of a pride of lions stalking a lone wildebeest or a leopard lazing in the branches of an acacia tree. It’s the Big 5 at every turn waiting for that perfect photo that will bring National Geographic calling. The thing is, it’s not exactly like that, is it? At least, that’s not what Fi and I found. It took us a while to get our heads around the whole safari thing. Embarrassingly, I would even say that at first I was a little underwhelmed. I know. I know, ungrateful sod aren’t I?! Well, that’s how we felt until we realised that going on game safari should be treated like a day of test cricket.
What do you mean ‘test cricket’?
That’s right we’re talking that glorious institution founded by the English and undoubtably improved by her majesty’s colonies. A potential five day game where men (or women) polish balls and the willow reigns supreme. Players dress in white while spectators get drunk in the stands. Batsman play down the leg side while spinners bowl a ‘wrongun’. For hours on end very little might happen and then in a split second it’s all happening! The ball goes over the fence for ‘six’; ‘HOWZAAAATTTT’….there’s a wicket; or a scuffle breaks out between security and a drunk punter.
How is one meant to enjoy this thing you call test cricket?
To the uninitiated, test cricket can be excruciatingly boring and non-sensical but to those in the know it’s a truly fantastic way to pass a day. First off, and perhaps most importantly is to remember that something mind blowing doesn’t happen every second of the day. With test cricket you’re in for the long haul but there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t be exceptionally enjoyable. As soon as one makes peace with this first key fact, they stop expecting non-stop action, they relax and enjoy the glories of the game.
You can tell someone who is in for an awesome day at the cricket. They’re the ones bringing a picnic lunch, a good book or a newspaper and an esky (chilly bin or cooler box depending on where you’re from) well stocked with chilled drinks (alcoholic or otherwise). These professionals settle comfortably into their seats and take in the splendour of the stadium around them. They might have a radio playing cricket commentary into some headphones. They appreciate the beautiful sunny day, the well manicured grass and probably chat with the other spectators around them. And, of course, when something exciting does happen on the field they jump around like idiots and enjoy it for what it’s worth. They share the excitement with those around them and then settle back to the aforementioned relaxed rhythm.
What on earth does this have to do with a day of game safari?
On our first proper game safari in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we were like the uninitiated cricket spectator expecting sixes at every ball. We drove out into the wilderness confident that the big cats were just around the corner. We searched longingly from tree to tree looking for lazing leopards. Each lonely springbok seemed a prime opportunity for a hungry cheetah, each wildebeest a mere snack for a marauding pack of lions. But, on that first afternoon, we saw none of the above, the next day neither. What the hell was going on?
It probably wasn’t until day three that we figured that going on safari was more like watching test match cricket than twenty-twenty. We realised that we needed to be more like the picnic lunch packers. We then started taking increasing note of the car loads of ageing South Africans who were quite happily driving far slower than the 40 km speed limit. They would head out for the whole day with a packed lunch, a few beers and a bird book. They were quite happy just parking up beside a waterhole for hours watching the springbok come and go on the off chance that a lion would appear. And, when something exciting would appear they happily shared it’s location with muppets like us so we could see something other than trees and dirt. The point was, they weren’t expecting action every minute. They were there to enjoy the whole game safari experience.
Once we got our heads around this new way of game driving we quickly caught on. The newspaper got packed along with our books, a picnic and a few cold beers. We would happily perch up on the side of the road waiting for a distant, lazy lion to raise his head. We weren’t rushing around like muppets and we were enjoying ourselves a lot more because of it.
Rhinos at the cricket
This whole ‘game safari is like cricket’ idea really came to life for us the other day in Swaziland. We headed out for a few hours of game driving at the Hlane Royal Game Reserve in Swaziland and saw very little. We poked around the dense bushland for a couple of hours but came up empty handed. But, when we returned to camp our test cricket patience paid off. The waterhole at our campsite had a bunch of hippos having a bath and three…wait, make that five….WHAT, make that ten….REALLY, that’s 15 rhinos.
As the sun set on these magnificent creatures I looked round and realised we were sitting at Swaziland’s version of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. There was the boundary fence (albeit electrified) encircling the outfield. There was the spectating crowd lazing in comfy wooden deck chairs around the ground. Some had a beer, some had a cup of tea but all were loving the amazing game of nature’s awesomeness play out in front of them.