I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: for me, there is no better way to spend a day than watching Test cricket. And when it’s done in the sun whilst enjoying a few cold castles, the local beer, all the better!
I was very lucky to be in town for work when the Aussies were touring for a highly anticipated three-Test series in February and March. The Proteas had recorded memorable series wins on their previous two visits down under (2 – 1 in 2008/2009 and 1 – 0 in 2012) yet they hadn’t beaten the Aussies at home since readmission; the last series win being the 4 – 0 thrashing Ali Bacher and his men dished out in 1969/1970 (the last time the Aussies were in town in 2009 they won 2 – 1).
Myself and Zone boy were leaving nothing to chance with our pre-match list and we were up bright and early on Saturday for day four of the 1st Test. Biltong and chips were purchased, some 6 tuna sandwiches prepared and the cooler box packed … we were on the Gautrain just after 8 and at SuperSport Park before 9! (play started at 10.30). We found our spot at long on and smothered ourselves in sunscreen as we waited for the bar to open at 10.
Unfortunately, the Proteas failed to turn up for this Test and it was hugely disappointing watching us getting thrashed inside 4 days. As I said in my weekly article for the paper, what rankled most was not that we lost but the manner of the defeat in that we simply didn’t put up a fight.
The action moved onto St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth a few days later and again, I was fortunate to be in town for work and be able to spend the weekend watching days three and four. I grew up in Port Elizabeth and in fact, we only lived 10 minutes walk from the ground. As such, St George’s was really my second home: not only did I spend days watching matches but also many, many hours watching players practice and also hounding players for autographs. I hadn’t watched cricket at St George’s for years and it was so special walking to the ground through the park on a beautifully warm Saturday.
Unlike SuperSport, the Proteas certainly showed up for this Test. Admittedly it was a slower pitch but the batsmen showed great application, patience and commitment to post 423 before the bowlers came to the party to dismiss the visitors for 243 – a lead of 177.
Morne Morkel was as aggressive as I’ve ever seen him bowling magnificently and extracting steep bounce off a docile pitch while Wayne Parnell, back after a four-year absence, was also superb before breaking down with an old groin injury.
The Proteas refused to let Australia back into the match and led by Hashim Amla’s 21st Test century, and fifth against Australia, set the visitors a mammoth 448 to win just before lunch on day four.
The more pressing issue was time, though, and with rain forecast for all of day five, the Proteas had 73 overs to remove the weather from the equation. A bowler down, they started flat and Australia were cruising at 126 without loss midway through the afternoon session.
Once more, though, they refused to give up and Dale Steyn finally reminded us all why he’s the number one bowler in the world. Steyn had looked out of sorts all series but with the ball reverse swinging, he produced a sublime spell of 3 for 10 in four overs to turn the match.
He accounted for Michael Clarke with a fine out-swinger, brilliantly caught low-down by Faf du Plessis at a very close second slip, before trapping Steven Smith first ball with one that swung in and then demolishing Brad Haddin’s middle stump.
At seven down, it wasn’t clear if the extra 30 minutes, allowed where umpires feel there could be a result, would be given. The drama was just beginning, however: off the last scheduled delivery of the day, de Villiers took a brilliant low catch diving full stretch to his left and Australia, it seemed, were 8 down. Extensive replays would show, however, that the ball had bounced just in front of the diving de Villiers and so it remained seven down.
Nevertheless, the umpires granted the extra time. Steyn would deliver once again, trapping Ryan Harris with a reviewed umpire’s call LBW, before a piece of magic from Alviro Petersen, standing at mid-off, ran out centurion Chris Rogers with a direct hit as he tried to put Peter Siddle on strike to face JP Duminy.
Australia were nine down but light and time was fading fast. It was left to Dean Elgar to bowl the final over as Smith has been told he couldn’t bowl Steyn. St George’s was on its feet and with the third-last ball of the day, Nathan Lyon was trapped LBW. Replays showed there was an inside edge but Australia had no reviews left and it was all over.
In a most incredible Test match, Australia had lost 10 wickets for 90 runs, including nine in the final session, and the Proteas won by a convincing 231 runs. In case anyone had lost even the tiniest bit of faith, this Proteas side showed us all why they’re without doubt the #1 Test side in the world and one of the great sides of any generation.
From there the action moved onto Newlands for the third and final Test. By then I was back in London and the Proteas would lose the Test and Series, which was bitterly disappointing.
ps – if you’re interested, here are my articles for the paper, you can find them here: