March 4, 2014
Choice of game
I've rarely missed an international game at Newlands. My love affair with Test cricket and this scenic stadium is such that I'd probably attend all five days of a Test between Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. As you can imagine, a series-deciding fixture between South Africa, the top-ranked Test side, and a newly revitalised Australia is not a match a cricket lover would easily forgo.
South Africa. Post-readmission, the Proteas have yet to win a Test series against the Aussies at home. It is the missing credential on an otherwise impressive record and I had hoped this Test would change that.
When Alviro Petersen raced to a half-century, the deficit appeared less daunting and the prospect of a draw likely. However, the immaculate bowling of Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris have all but ensured an Australia win. The duo shared seven wickets between them and combined sheer effort, reverse swing, menacing bouncers and variation to brilliant effect.
One thing I'd have changed about the match
A small group of local school boys proudly declared that they were bunking school and vocally supported Australia. Every time Shane Warne or a reserve player ventured out of the dressing room or appeared on the team balcony, these young lads attempted to get their attention by continually calling out the players' names. I'd have liked to put a muzzle on all of them.
The interplay I enjoyed
There is no love lost between Johnson and the equally fiery Dale Steyn. In the 80th over, Johnson bombarded Steyn with pace and bounce, and the Newlands faithful erupted with applause when Steyn top-edged a delivery for four. Johnson responded with another bouncer which smashed into Steyn's helmet. In true competitive spirit, the big screen quickly displayed a scene from the second Test when Steyn hit Johnson on the helmet, which elicited laughs from both players.
The dismissal of AB de Villiers, South Africa's new go-to-man, in the 36th over silenced the crowd and signaled thoughts of a follow-on. I personally mouthed a wow when, before the start of play, an Australia supporter seated behind me asked his friend who Graeme Smith was. Too bad the exemplary Proteas captain couldn't respond with a solid contribution.
From what I could hear, Johnson was occasionally heckled by several sections of a largely partisan crowd. One spectator, who noticed Johnson rubbing his hamstring, proceeded to tell the paceman that "he must go home" and is "finished for today". Clearly all in good fun, a group of beer-chugging guys responded by begging the Aussie quick to "give us a wave".
Shot of the day
Hashim Amla looked in sublime form as he executed a number of well-timed cover drives. However, it was his sublime cut shot off James Pattinson in the 28th over that truly stood out. Despite a relatively modest score of 38, it is clear that the Hash is back!
There were healthy numbers of Australia supporters, most of whom could be found on a small grass embankment where they persistently waved their large flags and vociferously cheered on Johnson whenever he fielded near the boundary. They were however outnumbered by the Newlands faithful who rapturously applauded every run the South African lower order could muster.
Fancy dress index
I spotted a couple of men wearing carved watermelons for hats, lime green tank tops and yellow pants. Apart from that, several guys rocked up in their whites complete with helmets and pads. They were probably hoping to have a bat! Clearly, the adventurous folk are still recovering from the weekend's festivities.
The PA system blared familiar radio favourites which included a number of cleverly selected tracks. At 121 for 4, Pharrell's "Happy" reverberated across the ground. I don't know whether the DJ intended to appeal to the celebrating Australians or to cheer up the disappointed crowd. When JP Duminy departed in the 39th over, "Wake Me Up When it's All Over", a line from an Avicii track, resounded - much to the amusement of a few alert spectators.
At the tea break, the crowd was treated to a parade by the South Africa Under-19 World Cup winners. They received a prolonged standing ovation and gave the South African public a taste of the glory that has sadly alluded the senior side in ICC events.
Tests v limited-overs
There is nothing you can get from an ODI that you cannot enjoy in large doses from a Test. If an ODI is a slow-cooked dinner at a family steakhouse then a Test is a three-course meal at a five-star resort. There simply is no comparison. It largely depends on one's taste buds. The mark of a great player, however, is the ability to perform in the Test arena and not so much an impressive spell with an IPL franchise. After all, a T20 is simply a happy meal from a fast food joint.
A gadget-occupied couple seated a few rows in front of me arrived with binoculars, cameras, lunch boxes, ear pieces, a radio and miniature fans. Heck, they probably had an espresso machine in their backpack! When the husband eagerly dashed off to snap a picture of Shane Warne, his wife and her friend took turns to use the binoculars to ogle a group of bronzed, shirtless gentlemen. Oh, the joys of technology.
Banner of the day
A very excited man held up an "Amla, your beard rocks my world" poster. Later, another placard holder displayed his affection for Johnson's facial hair with an alliterative "Mitch, your moustache is manly". Fail.
Marks out of 10
7. Despite South Africa's below par performance, I thoroughly enjoyed the bowling of the Australian quicks and only hope that Steyn and company follow their lead on day four.
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