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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
As a cricket fanatic, the prospect of watching the decisive Test of a series characterised by yo-yoing fortunes for both sides, at one of the most picturesque grounds in the world, is nothing short of mouthwatering. I initially predicted a South Africa victory, given Sri Lanka's depleted attack and the Proteas formidable record at Newlands
South Africa. They were ruthless in Centurion but lost the plot in Durban. South Africa have not won a home Test series in three years, and this match is the perfect platform to rectify that record and give Cape Town cricket lovers an opportunity to enjoy a decider, as opposed to the dead rubber they may have expected. No doubt the Durban loss boosted ticket sales at Newlands.
Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander produced sensational spells of fast bowling to rip through the Sri Lankan batting order, dampening the tourists' hopes of erasing the deficit. Clearly crowd favourites, the duo's exhibition of aggressive swing and seam bowling were greatly appreciated by the Newlands faithful.
One thing I'd have changed about the day
Though I am an ardent South Africa supporter, Kumar Sangakkara is arguably my favourite batsman. After his sublimely timed straight-drive during the afternoon session of day two, I had the impression that we were in store for another Sangakkara ton. But it was not to be, as he was dismissed twice on day three. If not to make for a more even contest, I would have given Sangakkara another life purely to watch his classy strokeplay.
The interplay I enjoyed
I particularly relished the contest between Philander and Tillakaratne Dilshan. The Sri Lankan captain made a swashbuckling 78 in the first innings. But after smashing his first delivery of the second innings for a four, he played and missed a few. The class of Philander then prevailed, as Dilshan nicked a length ball to the keeper.
Filling the gaps
The lunch and tea breaks provided a welcome opportunity to get out of the sun! It turned out to be warmer than expected and I feel for anyone who pitched up without a hat and sunscreen.
When Sangakkara slashed at a Steyn delivery during the first over of the day, trying to square-drive a wide ball, I knew things would not end well for the visitors. The crowd went berserk as Hashim Amla took a good catch at point. Yeah, I didn't understand what Sangakkara was thinking either.
As is to be expected, players who field along the boundary line are typically asked to sign a few hats and miniature bats. However, the extra security around the Western Province Members Pavilion has made things a little more difficult for youngsters seeking autographs. For one gleeful young boy, the hope of getting an autograph from Philander, who was fielding at long-on, overshadowed any existing barriers. He must have been shooed away by security at least nine times. He did eventually get his hero's signature, along with a picture of one of the Sri Lankan reserves sitting under an umbrella behind the ropes.
Shot of the day
Although Lahiru Thirimanne's square drive off Philander in the 20th over is worth a mention, the shot of the day belongs to Angelo Mathews. During his unbeaten innings, the allrounder edged several deliveries and could easily have been sent back to the pavilion, but his well-executed pull shot off Morne Morkel in the 41st over was pure class amid the mayhem.
As is customary, the grass embankments were filled to capacity and, given the warm weather, every seat in every shaded area was occupied. The atmosphere was electric, with the crowd firmly behind the Proteas. Steyn was constantly greeted with a standing ovation when he fielded at deep fine leg. Similarly, local boy Philander received tremendous praise along the boundary line. However, the loudest applause was reserved for batting kingpin Jacques Kallis when he was brought on to bowl.
Apart from a group of guys wearing watermelon hats, a toddler and his father sporting matching Hashim Amla beards, and someone dressed like James Brown, there weren't too many people in crazy outfits. Perhaps they're all still recovering from their New Year's Eve celebrations.
The DJ played a decent selection of tunes, the folks in North Stand had shouting competitions with the partisan crowd on the Oaks grass embankment, and a number of guys created an anaconda of empty plastic beer cups. But the greatest entertainment on day three was provided by Imran Tahir. Some may find his celebrations after taking a wicket over the top. The rest of us find him hilarious.
Tests v limited-overs
If an ODI is an appetizer, Test cricket is a buffet. Call me a purist but I would much rather enjoy the contest between bat and ball that a Test offers than the slogfest of an ODI.
I brought along a pair of binoculars. A word to the wise: never zoom in on a short-leg fielder at the end of an over. If anyone is interested: Hashim Amla's box is neon green.
Banner of the day
Some guy in a pink jumpsuit advertised his BBM pin, another one wanted to marry AB de Villiers, and a whole host of spectators proclaimed their love for Kallis, Steyn and Philander. But the funniest banner of the day referred to the Test series' sponsor, which manufactures cooking oil products: "Sunfoil: Jou ma se oily." I'm afraid only South Africans will understand this one.
8. Sri Lanka's batting was as poor as Philander and Steyn were fiery. I had hoped for a better fightback from the islanders, but having said that, the weather was perfect, South Africa pounced as a unit, and the atmosphere was terrific. All in all, a great day of Test cricket. That is, if you're a Proteas fan.
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