First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
It was an indolent Sunday. The weather proved incomparably beautiful. And international cricket was being played at one of the most scenic grounds in the world. My attendance? An unequivocal "yes". In truth, I'd probably have gone even if Bangladesh were playing Kenya.
South Africa. Before Friday's T20, I had hoped for a more competitive Pakistan than the side we saw in the UAE. As it turned out, a more competitive Pakistan proved too good for the home team. Today was no different as the visiting bowlers defended a lowly 218, converting what was expected to be an easy and predictably calculated chase into a nail-biter. Any cricket supporter can appreciate a thrilling contest, but consecutive losses at South Africa's premier ground is not something Proteas fans have become accustomed to.
Anwar Ali may have been adjudged Man of the Match, but in my opinion, fellow debutant Bilawal Bhatti was equally responsible for Pakistan's success. Both players excelled with bat and ball, and their 74-run partnership proved decisive in sinking any chances of a South Africa win, leaving the Newlands faithful demonstrably disappointed.
One thing I'd have changed about the match
In the 44th over, JP Duminy unforgivably gloved one to the keeper off the bowling of Saeed Ajmal. In hindsight, I would have quietly advised him to not play the reverse sweep. I respect the innovation but even Stevie Wonder could see that delivery was not full enough to execute the sweep. His departure practically signaled the end for South Africa and left the bowlers with too much to do.
Face-off I relished
I had hoped to see Imran Tahir facing off against Shahid Afridi and later claiming his wicket. Afridi is convinced he can dispatch every ball for six and Tahir would probably jump into the stands if he were to dismiss the Pakistan allrounder. But alas, it was not to be. Afridi did keep Duminy very busy, though. After picking up the wicket of AB de Villiers in the 18th over, he utilised a change in length and varied pace to good effect in deceiving Duminy and increasing the required run rate. However, Duminy appeared to have won the battle when he cut a short ball for four and executed a well-timed cover drive in the 24th over. That is until Afridi returned to help tighten the screws in the 33rd over.
Duminy's exit generated raucous applause from the Pakistan supporters and a wave of despondency among Proteas fans. I contemplated defeat, but when Morne Morkel arrived at the crease, faced up to Ajmal and dispatched his first ball for six, all those heroic innings by lanky bowlers came flooding to mind. Unfortunately, those images did not materialise and, in the 49th over, Bhatti ended Morkel's effort with a yorker even Lasith Malinga would have been proud of.
An insanely drunk woman vociferously cheered for South Africa, screaming players' names at least twice an over. The problem was she yelled "Kallis!" when Amla and Smith were batting and later resorted to shouting "JP!" when everyone but Duminy was batting. After noticing a few of Pakistan's reserve players sitting along the boundary line, she belted out "Hi India!" with great repetition. A few yards away, to the left of the sight screen, several patrons constructed a beer snake consisting solely of plastic beer cups. I'm pretty sure the bulk of those cups came from that lady.
Shot of the day
I must have been the last person to have stopped applauding when Jacques Kallis slapped Junaid Khan through midwicket for four in the seventh over. Precision, timing, balance and pure class. Welcome back, King Kallis!
The thermostat hit 35 degrees by lunchtime. As such, crowd capacity was at its peak only when South Africa commenced batting. The shaded areas were chock-a-block, and the security guards had a field day checking everyone's seat numbers. Those in the sun took refuge under umbrellas, wet towels, makeshift sarongs and giant flags. Even the players sought shelter under a portable umbrella during the drinks break. Once again, both sides were well-supported and no one received a louder applause than the son of Newlands himself, Jacques Kallis.
Fancy dress index
Looking around, it seemed that war paint was the order of the day. I encountered a number of painted torsos bearing the South African flag and several Pakistan supporters' faces were dotted with white stars over a green background. A couple of guys adorned "Boom Boom Pakistan" T-shirts and a group of Proteas supporters were decked out in neon green jumpsuits. I noticed a pale, shirtless man had plastered "SA" in sunscreen all over his body. Apparently he fell asleep on a grass embankment in the blazing heat. Bad move.
Selena Gomez's "Come and Get It" blared from the PA system at the fall of Nasir Jamshed and Mohammad Hafeez's wickets. Coincidentally, both batsmen were dismissed by Dale Steyn. Perhaps it was the DJ's not-so-subtle way of reminding the incoming Pakistan batsmen of the ferocity of the world's premier fast bowler. Aside from the music, one brazen Pakistan fan started bleating at a couple of Proteas players fielding near the boundary line. Clearly trying to imitate a sheep, his sounds were met with a few ironic laughs. He must have thought he was in Australia. Sorry, mate.
In an attempt to absorb possible boredom (those middle overs tend to languish), I brought along a portable speaker. All was well until I started playing Justin Bieber. Apparently that's not very cool. A Pakistan fan sitting in front of me was particularly disturbed. However, I can't say I took offence as he was carrying around a stuffed animal. Yes, a stuffed animal.
Banner of the day
"Steyn Alive" was a fairly corny yet catchy poster. Indeed the PA system also noticed the placard-holder and proceeded to play "Stayin' Alive" when Steyn walked out to bat. Unfortunately, that inspiration was short-lived as he was clean-bowled by Bhatti in the 47th over. Apart from that, a very persistent supporter regularly held up an "Inzamam for Coach" placard. He appeared to be pointing it in the direction of the Pakistan change room. After this weekend's winning streak, I doubt anyone will be heeding that advice.
Marks out of 10
8.5. Perhaps 9 had my team emerged victorious. It was an absorbing game in which the ball dominated the bat and the outstanding weather made the contest that much more enjoyable. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.
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