Fan Following

First-person reports from the stands

South Africa v India, third Test, Cape Town, first day

A cracking start

The world's top two sides battling in challenging conditions - that's how every year should begin (minus the rain)

Matt Riches

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Hashim Amla brought up his 50 with a six off Sreesanth, South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 1st day, January 2, 2011
Hashim v Sree: an absorbing battle © Associated Press
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Choice of game
The decider of a tightly contested Test series between the best two sides in the world would surely be reason enough to turn up at the stadium, wouldn't it? But there is something really special about a New Year's Test at Newlands, so attendance has become somewhat of a tradition for me, usually preceded by some (very) early-morning viewing of the corresponding fixture in Australia. I went into the game backing South Africa, and their ability to bounce back and produce quality Test cricket when it matters, to clinch the win and the series.

Team supported
South Africa, but I was keen to see a good contest between two excellent teams.

Key performer
Until Hashim Amla got a little carried away in his shot-making to a feisty Sreesanth and threw it away, he looked in good touch for his breezy 59, but it was Jacques Kallis (81 not out) who was rock solid. He batted for the majority of the day, seemingly an immovable object despite the tricky conditions for batting, and laid the foundations to steady the South African ship after a shaky start of 34 for 2.

One thing I'd change
The weather. Rain seems to be following this series around the country and today was no different. Too much of the first session was spent with the groundstaff, rather than the cricketers, on the field, ushering covers on and off. Surprisingly, however, we were able to get 74 overs in the day, though the clouds looked well set and ominous before the start of play.

Interplay I enjoyed
The battle between Sreesanth and Amla, which got the crowd involved, was fascinating to behold. The temperamental Indian pace bowler, I think it's fair to say, wasn't best pleased to be greeted by several ironic cheers from the majority of the crowd when he returned to his fielding position at fine leg after being carted for two boundaries and a two in an over by a rampant Amla. Sreesanth, who never shies away from a challenge - he goes looking for them in fact, appeared to be spurred by such treatment and launched a short-pitched barrage at Amla, who duly took him and the two fielders on the leg-side boundary on, and dispatched a short ball over the square-leg boundary for six. But Sree would win the skirmish: a few bouncers, a couple of "choice" comments in the batsman's direction and another boundary later, Amla went for another six but this time could only find the waiting hands of Cheteshwar Pujara on the fence. Needless to say he was sent on his way in true Sreesanth fashion.

Shot of the day
Alviro Petersen played a beautiful cover drive in the second over of play, but the shot of the day, which doubles up as the moment of the day, goes to the player of the day, Kallis. On 1 at the time, his glorious full-blooded extra-cover drive off Sreesanth screamed through the off side. It was classic Kallis and it kickstarted his innings.

Player watch
The great man Sachin Tendulkar was at mid-on in front of me for most of the day and it was interesting to note just how much advice he was handing out to his bowlers. Senior players in most Test sides stand in the slips these days, so it was wonderful to see the "Little Master" offering his opinion and guiding his bowlers throughout the day, especially given that the captain is busy concentrating behind the stumps.

Spell of the day
Zaheer Khan's opening spell with the new ball was special. He hit the good areas and made the ball talk in a way that only opening bowlers of his class can. He was unlucky to get only one wicket but it was the big fish, Graeme Smith.

Crowd meter
A very healthy number of supporters turned up despite the inclement weather and there was an infectious buzz around the ground. The official attendance figure that flashed up on the main scoreboard was 16,195, which is admirable given that Newlands' capacity is just over 20,000. Mexican waves kept fans busy during the rain breaks and loud cheers greeted the groundstaff as they took to the field to remove the covers, but the loudest ovation of the day erupted around the stadium when Kallis made his way out to bat.

Fancy-dress index
Many fans attempted to dress up for the occasion but three "Hashim Amla lookalikes" had to take the cake. Decked out in full Proteas Test kit along with fake beards, they drew plenty of attention. They were asked to pose for the odd photograph and found their way onto the big screen more than once.

Tests v limited-overs
In Test cricket the pace of the game is sometimes slower, but the cricket is often more intense. While one-day and Twenty20 cricket provide excitement for fans, Test cricket is still the ultimate format for any cricket purist. It just doesn't get better than the true challenge of two sides battling it out over five days. Test cricket is definitely the most enjoyable in my opinion.

Marks out of 10
8. It was a very absorbing day of Test cricket. From periods where the Indian bowlers were on top, to passages of play where the South Africans built encouraging partnerships, the day was action-packed. Despite the slightly curtailed day's play, it was still a superb opening to the Newlands New Year's Test.

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Matt Riches is 20 year-old student from Cape Town. When not spending his time studying politics, economics and media at the University of Cape Town (UCT) or watching cricket at Newlands, he turns out for UCT CC where, despite opening the bowling and batting in the lower order, he sees himself as a batsman (in the mould of VVS Laxman) who can bowl.

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