Fan Following

First-person reports from the stands

South Africa v England, third Test, Cape Town

Good to the last bite

A travelling England fans revels in the best sport he ever watched live

Rich Abbott

Text size: A | A
Graham Onions and Graeme Swann embrace after seeing out 17 balls to save England the Test, England v South Africa, 3rd Test, Cape Town, January 7, 2010
The Graham and Graeme Show: the last wicket pair saw off 17 balls to clinch the draw © Getty Images

Team supported
England. This was the first time I'd seen England play abroad. Having chosen this particular game, I fear that the only way is down from here.

Favourite player
Kevin Pietersen has been my favourite since he broke into the side, and I was desperately hoping the game would signal a post-injury return to form for him. But I was equally excited about seeing AB de Villiers. There seem to be no limits to his talent, and I think he will go on to become the best batsman in the world in the next couple of years.

Key performers
Graeme Smith must own the trademark to the captain's innings. From the grass bank, we thought asking for his second-innings referral, when on 51, was a mistake. It wasn't, and he went on to put his side in a fantastic position with a devastating 183. For England, Ian Bell played one of his most important innings, scoring an impressively composed 78 in 286 minutes. He fell just short of the final hurdle - as many of the great rearguards seem to - but Graham Onions ensured his toil was not in vain.

Best passage of play
Paul Collingwood and Bell were resilience personified as they survived the whole of the afternoon session on the final day, giving England wickets to play with in the final session. For a while, they even led us to believe that we might achieve a comfortable draw. We should have known better: last-wicket resistance is becoming something of a theme with this England team.

One thing I'd have changed about the match
Pietersen's wicket late on day four. With Jonathan Trott and KP resuming at the crease on day five, the final day would have begun with an unrivalled sense of theatre. The tension levels surpassed the summit of Table Mountain late on day four when those two were at the crease, but unfortunately it was short-lived.

Face-off I relished
Dale Steyn gave Collingwood a working over on the last afternoon, but the Englishman provided obdurate resistance, sticking around for 40 from 188 balls. Many of Steyn's deliveries were so good that Collingwood was unable to get anywhere near them as they flew past the outside edge of his bat. Steyn's final-day performance was such that he deserved to be on a winning side.

Wow moments
For the sheer spine-tingling feeling that only sport can supply, it was when Pietersen walked down the steps and into the fray on the evening of day four. His task: to repel the ire of one nation, bearing the hope of another. Sadly he was not able to do this for long.

In pure cricketing terms, Steyn removing Trott's off-stump on the final morning was as thrilling as it was brutal. It was a fantastic delivery, which jagged back in and made a well-set batsman look fresh to the crease.

Morne Morkel's two in two balls on day three got the crowd buzzing, as did his removal of Ian Bell with three overs of the match remaining.

Graham Onions fended off the entire last over, a testing assortment of deliveries from Morkel again, with every dot ball cheered like a World Cup win by the frantic Barmy Army on the grass banks.

Crowd meter
Every day was packed, with nearly 80,000 spectators taking in the action over the full five days. Both sets of fans were passionate, vocal and game for a laugh. This was never more evident than during renditions of a Barmy Army song that lists the South Africans to have represented England - from the iconic (Basil D'Oliveira) to the obscure (Chris Smith) via the current (Trott and KP) - and was enjoyed by both sets of fans.

The PA system was busy, with music greeting boundaries and blaring out during breaks in play. One Alastair Cook boundary prompted a blast of "I'm a Believer", and given his performance in this Test (two solid opener's fifties), it's easy to see why the England management has kept believing in him. The Black Eyed Peas' frequent prediction that "tonight's gonna be a good night" proved spot-on in England's case, too.

South African fans show their support on the fifth day at Newlands, South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Cape Town, January 7, 2010
If flags were wishes: the home fans didn't get the result they wanted on day five © Getty Images

Fancy-dress index
Tense as the on-field action undoubtedly was, there's arguably a limit to the tension of any situation, as was proved by a Barmy Army member dressed as a whoopie cushion.

Player watch
While some boundary fielders ignore the crowd behind them, Paul Collingwood, fielding out of the slips due to his dislocated finger, actually initiated some banter with the crowd himself. It didn't affect his concentration either - he took a fine, high-pressure catch just in front of us.

Star spotting
I saw Springbok rugby coach Peter de Villiers milling around the ground on day one. It's fair to say he didn't mind being recognised by fans. Elsewhere Jonathan Agnew was only too happy to pose for a photo, confirming his legendary status in my eyes.

Marks out of 10
9. The final hour of the match was the best sport I have had the pleasure of witnessing live. An England win would have been better, but this improbable survival keeps us in the lead heading into the final Test of this excellent series. Bring on Jo'burg!

Rich Abbott is a sportswriter from Salisbury, Wiltshire. He has been a keen follower of the England cricket team ever since Robin Smith's lion-hearted performances captured his imagination as a child. He has not quite given up on his dream of playing international cricket, but until that happens he enjoys writing about it on the blog The Corridor

Tell us what you think. Send us your feedback

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

. Your ESPN name '' will be used to display your comments. Please click here to edit this.
Email this page to a friend Email Feedback Feedback Print Print
More in Fan Following
RSS FeedAll
  • ESPN
  • ESPNF1
  • Scrum
  • Soccernet