South Africa have been inactive since their World Cup quarter-final exit at the hands of the Black Caps in March. Accordingly, I was eager to witness the first game of what promises to be an exciting summer of cricket. Given the history of entertaining SA-Australia contests, I was anticipating a nailbiter.
South Africa never fail to impress. Rather, they fail to perform in ICC events but always manage to impress in bilateral contests. Somehow this works to assuage their loyal fans' disappointment. Patriotism aside, I predicted an Australia win. They're fresh off a largely successful tour of Sri Lanka, whereas South Africa have not played for seven months. Enough said.
Although JP Duminy played some scintillating shots in manufacturing a breezy half-century, it was the all-round performance of Shane Watson that sealed an Aussie victory. With a vital 52 and 1 for 26 off four overs, Watson demonstrated why he is such an important cog in the Australian side. He took the attack to the South African bowling line-up and was particularly harsh on Rusty Theron, timing three consecutive drives off the medium pacer in the sixth over.
If possible, I would have applied some form of adhesive to Graeme Smith's hands.
Given David Warner's explosive form during the Champions League, I was anticipating an intriguing contest between the dashing opener and the pace and bounce of Morne Morkel. Owing to an accurate throw at Warner's stumps by Morkel, fielding at short leg, this battle never materialised. I made up with the contest between Robin Peterson and Cameron White. After an average first over, the left-armer was brought back into the attack. The Aussie captain seemed eager to take him on, slashed at a flighted delivery and mistimed a reverse sweep as he tried to repeat a massive six he had launched over long-on, getting out, much to the colossal delight of the crowd.
The crowd erupted when David Hussey skied a slower ball from Lonwabo Tsotsobe. It gave South Africa a glimmer of hope and helped make the final over worth watching.
Hussey, Steve Smith and Morkel fielded at or around mid-on. They were consistently, and expectedly, harassed for autographs, prompting the PA to announce that autograph-seeking disrupts the concentration of players on field. I doubt it was comparable to the clamorous heckling Graeme Smith received at deep midwicket after he wasted an opportunity to dismiss Watson!
Though I enjoyed Peterson's execution of the Dilscoop, arguably the best shot of the day was Watson's straight drive off the bowling of Theron. Pure poetry in motion, and proof that there is room for class in Twenty20 cricket.
Newlands was sold-out. The atmosphere was electric and the Mexican wave occurred with great regularity and intensity. There was a scattering of Australian fans but their cheers were drowned out. The loudest applause was reserved for local boy Duminy, who received a standing ovation when he got to his 50.
No matter where are you in the world, if you're at an international cricket match, chances are you will encounter at least one Indian and his flag. Tonight was no different. Kitted out in a turban, sarong and ''Team India'' shirt, he seemed at odds among the array of green and gold shirts, afro wigs featuring the colours of the SA flag, and plastic green helmets.
The DJ's selection of contemporary, popular and fast-paced music perfectly complemented the atmosphere of Twenty20 cricket. The cheerleaders stood out in their tin-foil get-ups, complete with green mohawks, and their moves weren't bad either. Fireworks erupted at the fall of a wicket and whenever a six was hit. And a group of drummers displayed their talents during the innings break.
Attending an international game at Newlands is never complete without a South Africa flag. The bigger the better: I find the plethora of colour overwhelms the opposition. Unfortunately (or not), the vuvuzela has not quite been welcomed in cricket stadia… yet. Too bad - it would have been useful in knocking some sense into Smith after that unforgivable drop.
A few girls advertised their willingness to marry AB de Villiers (who busied himself with signing autographs), a university student took the opportunity to promote gay rights, and Norman Gordon, if you're reading this, someone wished you a very happy birthday. But arguably the best banner of the day goes to the guy who stood up every now and then displaying a white placard that read: "The person behind me cannot see''. Corny but true.
8.5 - perhaps a 10 had my team emerged victorious. The result, though, could not take away from the astounding atmosphere; the good, though not exceptional, quality of cricket; and the passion of the Newlands faithful. The pitch was on the slow side and the weather chilly, but that was to be expected. Cape Town has set the benchmark. Let's hope Joburg knows how to throw a party.