Centurion Park isn’t a venue that gets listed among the best in the world. It doesn’t even make the finalists at the beauty pageant for cricket stadiums where Cape Town and Dharamshala regularly fight it out for tiaras and sashes. Who can compete with the Table Mountain and the Himalayas?
Being in Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital, too doesn’t help. The place is sleepy and very sarkari. Working hours are sacrosanct. Even restaurants close down by 9 pm. (May the Almighty help Aabid fulfill his dream of earning enough, getting his sisters married and return to Sialkot. At 10, going beyond the call of duty, he served three hungry Indians daal-gosht and makhni mixed vegetable.)
But we digress. So back to Centurion Park — or SuperSport Park — and how those that rank the world’s best grounds have got it so wrong. In case the locals are planning to launch a signature campaign to lodge their protest, I wait with my pen.
Here’s listing things that Centurion Park’s beholders see, not those blinded by the Table Mountain.
Everything about it tells you that its architect was a cricket fan, who valued his comfort while watching sports.
The living rooms across the world are inhabited by two kinds of fans: the ones who sit on the dining table chair and others who are sprawled on the couch or the floor. The man who designed Centurion was certainly the second type.
It’s a ground where the grass bank seating is much more than the capacity of the pavilion. It’s almost a 70-30 ‘grass to concrete’ ratio.
This is what makes Centurion the world’s most open cricket ground. It doesn’t have imposing facades, concrete pillars and most importantly no nose-bleeding seats. Even from the modestly high stands you can see the flyovers, the motorway and in general watch the world go by. If not for the full house, a motorist driving on the road just behind the sight screen would know who’s won the toss and who’s batting.
With Centurion’s well-liked structure, everyone can have a peep at the cricket. This structure also forces players to climb down 50 steps from their dressing room to reach the ground. As for those ticket-holders on the grass banks, they just have to show their tickets, enjoy a leisurely walk and settle for day-long cricket.
Centurion’s seating options are straight from a sports fans’ fantasy. Every posture has been catered to. There are colourful bean bags to sink into at the grass bank. It’s for watching live cricket and also to be a sloth.
A faux-terrace next to the pavilion, it’s just a few raised platforms, that give the pleasure of leaning forward on the low iron bar. Applauding a wristy Hashim Amla flick by patting your left hand on the beer glass held by your right… oh, the pleasures of being at Centurion.
The cute cottages on the hill, with an inviting porch and fetching balcony, provide two options. As if watching a street game from the apartment window, you can get a relaxed view of the Test from the balcony. Once your feet tire, take a few steps down to the porch to spread your legs while sitting on the easy chairs.
Comfortable garden chairs under a tent with a family area signage, too fill up fast. This is for a picnic with kids on the sidelines of an intense Test match.
There are also half-naked men standing knee deep in water just meters from the boundary. They sip from their beer glasses and wait for Markram to lean into a lazy cover drive. It’s all laid back at this ground.
The not too dense plumes of smoke that emerge across the ground give you an idea about the barbeque spots at the venue. Between sessions, there is always time for a nicely done steak.
And once the meal has been smoked enough, you can go to one of the wooden benches not far from the boundary line.
In the first session on day 1, you dig into the meat and watch the Indians get cooked. And if you get lazy, there are several trees with cool shade to catch 40 winks. This is a venue straight out a sporting fan’s dream and there are hundred reasons to include Centurion Park as a top cricket ground.