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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
With exams done and dusted, I couldn't imagine a better way to kick start my summer vacation than with a day at the cricket. The last time the Proteas played a Test match at Newlands was against India, which ended in a dreary draw. After the theatrics of day two, only a snowstorm could prevent a result. And with the Proteas full of momentum and effectively having three days to bat, only a die-hard Australian fan would predict anything other than a South African win.
South Africa. They briefly held the status of the world's best Test team in 2008. The road to reclaiming the No. 1 spot begins with a win against the Aussies and an army of cheering supporters.
Graeme Smith manufactured a true captain's innings, simultaneously silencing his critics, who could only stand and applaud his resilient knock, and hopefully signalling the end of his worrisome form. However, the player who truly stood out today was Hashim Amla. A clear crowd favourite, he combined class with fluency and made the most of his chances after Michael Hussey and Shane Watson each grassed the opportunity to dismiss the flashy right-hander. He was particularly harsh on Ryan Harris, sweetly timing three consecutive boundaries off him in the 45th over, much to the noisy cheers of the healthy Newlands crowd.
One thing you'd have changed
In the interest of cricket, notwithstanding South Africa's tremendous effort to pull off a win after narrowly avoiding the follow-on, I would have preferred the Test to have at least lasted three full days. After yesterday's mayhem, a fighting and nail-biting finish would have provided the icing on the cake of what has truly been an unforgettable Test. Perhaps a few early wickets and intermittent grey skies would have given the Australian bowlers something to work with. But alas, the commanding strokeplay of Amla and Smith, coupled with lots of pitch-flattening sunshine, meant the game was wrapped up within the morning session. I now find myself having to exchange my day four and five tickets for a domestic match.
Interplay I enjoyed
At one point, it looked like Amla's aggressive batting would deny Smith a deserved hundred. I don't doubt the chat in the middle included a plea from the captain to Amla to block a few deliveries. Fortunately, and in fairytale fashion, Smith reached his century when South Africa needed two to win.
At 11:11 on 11/11/2011, the Proteas needed 111 runs to win. The Newlands faithful were instructed to stand on one leg for one minute. For those who had already indulged in a couple of beers, this proved challenging! I can't decide if watching grown men hop about is as funny as seeing all those 1s on the scoreboard is spooky. Either way, nothing out-of-the-ordinary today could compete with 21 for 9 - just ask the Aussies.
President's Pavilion, Block K, Row O. Right below the Australian balcony and almost directly behind the slip cordon, my friends and I are convinced it's the ideal place to sit. The verbal protagonists must have gone to the beach instead of the cricket because I don't recall hearing any of the usual heckling. However, one loud bare-chested man, wearing what looked like the South African flag as a pair of shorts, attempted to engage with Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke. Given his inaudible slurs, his efforts were met with laughs. Well, at least he gave the Aussie captain something to smile about!
Shot of the day
Amla brought up his fifty with a magnificent cover-drive off Mitchell Johnson. It was a half-volley, but he timed it superbly. Pure, unequivocal class.
The ground started to fill up as Capetonain cricket lovers slowly realised that the game would likely end before lunch. As is customary, the Oaks grass embankment was filled to capacity and provided the loudest cheers. They started a number of Mexican waves but the rest of the stadium simply couldn't keep up. Smith and Amla each received a prolonged standing ovation when they brought up their respective hundreds. And debutant Vernon Philander's effort was duly appreciated by his home crowd when he collected the Man-of-the-Match trophy.
Newlands was invaded by a group of Smurfs, a couple of Hashim Amla wannabees (complete with detachable beards) and a bunch of guys wearing watermelon hats, excessive body paint and green skirts. Just your average day at the cricket.
Apart from the characters identified above, there wasn't much entertainment. The PA system made sure the spectators knew when to ''do the Nelson'' and drew our attention to the fact that Amla and Smith had broken the record for the highest second-wicket partnership by South Africa against the Aussies. After the post-match presentation, a cacophony of kids invaded the pitch.
Those pesky security personnel confiscated my Vuvuzela and I neglected to bring my binoculars. Nevertheless, I had a secure supply of water, great company and a good pair of UV-blocking shades. What more could one ask for?
Tests v limited-overs
There is simply no comparison. A Twenty20 is a snack, an ODI is an early dessert and a Test match is a three-course meal. You can up the scoring rate in any format, but only Test cricket assesses the true stamina, ability and character of an international side.
Banner of the day
There were very few banners around the ground. Someone thinks ''Hashim is King'', another believes Ricky Ponting should retire, and a young boy wanted the South African batsmen to hit a six in his direction. Without a doubt the best banner of the day was my friend Graham's makeshift placard that referred to Smith finally scoring a hundred: ''Enjoy it while it lasts because it won't happen for another few years''. Let's hope he's wrong.
Marks out of 10
7.5. Although the match ended prematurely and the stadium was not near capacity, the atmosphere was fantastic, the passion of the crowd evident and the weather ideal. South Africa came from behind to register an unthinkable win, and Smith and Amla displayed their class in what proved to be a relatively easy chase. A good day at the office for a South African cricket fan.
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