With the Covid-19 pandemic bringing live sport to a standstill, this writer began reminiscing about the fantastic Test cricket witnessed over the years, at one of the most picturesque grounds in the world - Newlands.
I started watching Test cricket at Newlands as a young boy in the late 90s - my first Test match was a South Africa-West Indies game in 1999 when the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Carl Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and a certain Lara featured for the visitors. So, not a bad start for me. Since then I've been at almost every Newlands Test in the subsequent 20 years - and seen a number of fantastic cricketers and terrific performances - so thought it will be fitting to pick my Newlands Test team of the century (so far).
This team is purely based on performances in Newlands Tests I've seen in the last 20 years or so. Understandably, the team is dominated by local players. However, there are other international players who have made an impact at Newlands as well.
An outrageously talented batsman, Gibbs was an enigma at times, but when he was in the mood to turn it on, he was one of the most entertaining batsmen. He played some memorable knocks at his home ground, not far from where he grew up and was educated. A fantastic 142 against the West Indies in the 2004 New Years' Test was a highlight in the Gibbs' knocks at Newlands, but it was his double-century in a record opening partnership with Graeme Smith in 2003 against Pakistan that secured his place in this team.
Standout Newlands performance: Of course, it's that 228 off 240 balls against Pakistan in 2003. Gibbs was flawless on that day, hitting 29 fours and six sixes. Along with Smith, he put together 368 for the opening stand at well over five per over. It made for fantastic viewing.
Graeme Smith (capt)
Smith joins his former opening partner to anchor the innings for our Newlands' XI. Smith relished batting at Newlands from the outset, scoring 68 in his debut Test against an Australian attack comprising Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne. He scored 151 alongside Gibbs, when the pair hammered their record opening stand of 368 against Pakistan in 2003 and in all collected four centuries and six fifties in his 17 tests at Newlands. He scored a fourth-innings century in a great win over Australia in 2011. However, the standout performance must be the massive ton against England in 2010 that put his team on the brink of victory.
Standout Newlands performance: His 183 off 273 balls against England in 2010. One of the masters of the second innings, he struck a crucial ton to put his side on the front foot and on the path to victory. Only some last day heroics saw the English save the match nine wickets down after 141 overs.
One of the greatest cricketers of all time, Kallis basically picks himself and would be the first name on the sheet. Kallis saved many fantastic performances for his own home ground, scoring nine centuries and bagging 42 wickets in 22 Tests at Newlands. He's also the top run-getter in Tests at Newlands by almost 800 runs. In 2011, Kallis scored 161 and 109* in the same Test against India, an outstanding all-round performance, but his double-century against Sri Lanka in the next year surely goes down as one of the moments of his career.
Standout Newlands performance: His 224 off 325 balls against Sri Lanka in the 2012 New Year's Test. A truly epic knock started with vicious intent as Kallis raced to his first fifty off 42 balls. He then settled into his innings and continued to wow the home crowd, ending with 32 fluent boundaries. This double-ton was even more sweeter coming off the back of a pair in the previous Test in Durban.
The Little Master takes the No. 4 spot as he usually did for India in Tests during his illustrious career. Tendulkar enjoyed batting at many grounds, including Newlands. He averages 81.50 in four Tests at the venue. He scored 51 Test centuries, many of which were fluent and exhilarating, and this writer counts himself lucky to have witnessed one in 2011 which came under severe pressure and is arguably as good as any he scored. This knock secures his spot in the side.
Standout Newlands performance: That 146 off 314 balls against South Africa in the 2011. This century came with the series level at 1-1. In reply to South Africa's 362, India were 28 for 2 with Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid back in the hut. Then on day three, Tendulkar just seemed to bat and bat and bat. He found an able ally in Gambhir (93), but a middle-order collapse left India at 237 for 5. Tendulkar batted resolutely for almost eight hours against an inspired Dale Steyn and guided his side to safe waters. This innings was also picked by ESPNcricinfo as the Test batting performance of 2011 and Tendulkar had said that the opening session on day three at Newlands was 'one of the best sessions of my life'. He added 14* off 91 balls on the final day to cap his fighting performance and seal the draw.
The second overseas player to make the side, the former Australian captain loved batting against South Africa in Tests. Cases in point: his 259* and 230 against them in 2012 in Australia. Clarke also produced a couple of amazing Test performances at Newlands. His fantastic 161* against an attack containing Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel set up a huge Test win for Australia in Graeme Smith's last test in 2014, securing the series for his side. However, his best performance in Cape Town was his remarkable first-innings century in that famous 2011 Test which saw South Africa being bowled out for 96 in their first innings and soon after Australia were dismissed just 47. South Africa pulled off a come-from-behind victory, but Clarke certainly made his mark in Cape Town.
Standout Newlands performance: 151 off 176 balls against South Africa in 2011. This wonderful innings was made to look even better by the batting collapses that followed in the match. Coming in at 40 for 3, with his team under pressure against a rampant attack, Clarke weathered multiple bursts to drag Australia to 284.
AB de Villiers (wk)
I was never a fan of AB de Villiers taking the gloves over his South Africa career - unless it was absolutely necessary - as his value with the bat was just so important. However, in this fantasy team I think de Villiers needs to dust off his gloves to add balance to the XI. He wasn't bad behind the stumps either, was he? In my favour is the fact that in two of the matches in which he played as a specialist keeper at Newlands, he scored 67 against New Zealand in 2013 and 148 against the West Indies in 2015, and that will do.
Standout Newlands performance: 163 off 196 balls against Australia in 2009. This was an innings of typically fantastic de Villiers strokeplay, which included four sixes in a row off Andrew McDonald. (A close runner-up was his 160* off 205 balls against Sri Lanka in 2012).
He is the second world-class allrounder in the team, joining Kallis. Stokes has only played two tests at Newlands, but he has done more than enough in those games to secure his place in this XI. In the recent 2020 New Year's Test, the allrounder scored 47 and 72 with the bat and produced an outstanding fourth-innings spell of 3 for 35 in 23.4 overs, knocking over the final three wickets in the final hour of the day to win the Test match for his side and secure the Man-of-the-Match award. Somehow, this isn't his most eye-catching performance at Newlands; that came in 2016…
Standout Newlands performance: 258 off 198 balls against South Africa in 2016. In one of the most explosive and devastating Test innings of all time, Stokes hit 30 fours and 11 sixes. He smashed South Africa's attack all over the park, getting to his double-ton off 163 balls - the second-fastest double-century ever in Test cricket.
Big Vern has been very effective at Newlands, and this was clear from his debut against Australia in 2011. He followed up 3 for 63 in the first innings with 5 for 15, and his Test career was nicely set up. In all, Philander picked up 53 wickets in 11 Tests in Cape Town at a superb average of 18.26. He also took great pride in batting in front of his home crowd, averaging 30.33 at Newlands - more than his overall Test average of 24.04.
Standout Newlands performance: Match Figures of 9 for 75 in 30.1 overs against India in 2018. Even among many great Newlands performances, this terrific spell against India stands out. The "Philander wobble" was on display as he got the ball to talk, picking up 3 for 33 in 14.3 overs in the first innings. Then, with India chasing 208 to win the Test match, Philander stole the show, removing the dangerous Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and M Vijay on his way to 6 for 42 in 15.4 overs.
South Africa's leading Test wicket-taker needs little introduction. Steyn is also the most successful bowler in Newlands' history in Test cricket - picking up 74 wickets in 15 Tests at an average of 21.75 - so he is a must-have in this side. In his last Test appearance at Newlands against Pakistan in 2019, Steyn picked up seven wickets in the match to guide South Africa towards victory and leave a lasting impression on the Newlands' faithful, but his standout Newlands effort came a few years earlier…
Standout Newlands performance: Match figures of 6 for 88 in 34 overs against India in 2007. The Test series is locked at 1-1. India's top order is stacked with the class of Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. India go big in the first innings with 414; Steyn bowls well and comes away with 2 for 58 in 27. South Africa reply strongly with 373 but they're still behind in the game. However, from 114 for 3, India crash to 169 all out with Steyn bagging 4 for 30 in seven fiery overs to help South Africa claim the series.
The next seamer's spot is reserved for this remarkable young bowler. After making his Test debut at 20, Rabada has quickly evolved into the leader of the attack is still only 24. 'KG' has bowled quite a few great spells at Newlands in just his six Tests so far: 4 for 61 against Pakistan, 4 for 91 against Australia and 3 for 34 against India, but none of these match up to his effort against Sri Lanka in 2017. Out of all the wonderful fast bowlers that have played at Newlands since the turn of the century, only one man has bagged 10 wickets in a Newlands Test match. And that man is Rabada.
Standout Newlands performance: Match Figures of 10 for 92 in 29 overs against Sri Lanka in 2017. Rabada dominated the Sri Lankan top order with figures of 4 for 37 in 12 overs and 6 for 55 in 17 overs, removing Angelo Mathews (twice), Dinesh Chandimal (twice), Kaushal Silva (twice) and added the likes of Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga to his haul for good measure.
In recent times, the Newlands' deck hasn't offered to much for the spinners to work with and outstanding spin performances have been hard to come by. Paul Harris' match figures of 9 for 161 against Australia in 2009 and Simon Harmer's 7 for 153 on debut against West Indies in 2015 are honourable mentions, but Pakistan's Saaed Ajmal takes the spot. In 2013, Ajmal became the first spinner to take ten wickets in a Test match at Newlands since England's Johnny Wardle in 1957. No spinner has done it since Ajmal, which puts him in rare company.
Standout Newlands performance: Match figures of 10 for 147 v South Africa in 2013. Pakistan lost this game against South Africa despite the remarkable efforts of their champion spinner at the time. The hosts lost 16 wickets in the match, and Ajmal picked up more than half of them. In South Africa's first innings of 326, Ajmal produced a fantastic marathon spell of 6 for 96 in 42 overs dismissing Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Kallis, du Plessis and Dean Elgar. Defending just 181 in the fourth innings, Ajmal grabbed 4 for 51 in 18.1 overs, but it wasn't enough for Pakistan.
Matt Riches is a teacher with a passion for sport who enjoys coaching, playing, watching, talking and (occasionally) writing about cricket.
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