While the Mamelodi Oval is rapidly becoming one of my favourite grounds – it has a beautiful setting in the Magaliesburg hills, the local community is obviously proud of the ground and facilities have improved with every visit there, I am largely cynical about how much the Melrose Arch razzmatazz will do for our World Cup chances and, frankly, I will be happy if I never have to go back to Willowmoore Park again.
That’s because half the games in Benoni are disrupted by the awful facilities at that ground. On Thursday night, it was embarrassing to see South Africa A and the England Lions tourists have to hang around and wait for over half-an-hour while an electrician was found to get the floodlights working properly.
For the Titans, Willowmoore Park has become an infuriating home ground for them.
Last weekend, a short 20-minute shower nearly led to their Momentum One-Day Cup game being abandoned due to the shocking drainage at the ground, not helped by the ground staff pouring the water that had accumulated on the covers on to an already wet patch.
The potential loss of points would have been critical for the Titans in their efforts to secure a home playoff, while the match being shortened to 20 overs due to the delay was hugely prejudicial to them because it meant the Highveld Lions had all 10 wickets in hand for just a short run-chase.
Fortunately the Lions batsmen were terrible and the Titans still won, but they had a match abandoned, losing all the points, in November due to a sub-standard, dangerous pitch. Several Titans players have suffered hand injuries due to similar pitches at the ground.
India had a warm-up game there in December 2013 cancelled due to the field being wet despite Benoni being bathed in bright sunshine for three days and it’s well-known that even the slightest bit of rain at Willowmoore Park causes major delays.
Simply put, Willowmoore Park is a disgrace. A prehistoric looking super-sopper, with practically no sponge left on the roller, merely shifts the water around the field; a rope is sometimes driven around the ground by the groundsman in a battered old car. Compared to Mamelodi, there seems to be a complete lack of pride in the venue, a distinct attitude of “who cares?” when it comes to maintaining the facility.
Top-class cricket should be taken away from Benoni by Cricket South Africa to ensure that franchises and international touring teams are given the facilities they deserve. It’s sad that a ground that has been operational since 1924 and was made famous by Denis Compton’s triple-century in three hours for England against North-Eastern Transvaal in 1948 has fallen into such disrepair.
I would even suggest moving games scheduled for Willowmoore Park to the Mamelodi Oval, which is also going to help transformation, and channelling the considerable amounts of money poured down the drain or simply not used in Benoni to that ground.
It’s probably not going to happen for political reasons though. Easterns cricket will bring their vastly overinflated influence in the CSA boardroom into play and let’s not forget that the murky hand of the Guptas is probably most strongly present at Willowmoore Park.