Both camps feel the dazzle‚ drama and disappointments of the Newlands test

Faf du Plessis, Captain of South Africa (r) and Virat Kohli (captain) of India (l) during the Sunfoil Test Series India Press Conference and Training at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 3 January 2018.
Faf du Plessis, Captain of South Africa (r) and Virat Kohli (captain) of India (l) during the Sunfoil Test Series India Press Conference and Training at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 3 January 2018.
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

It isn’t often that the captain of a test team who have been shot out for 135 chasing a barely middling 208 to win has good things to say about the pitch.

Virat Kohli was that captain at Newlands on Monday‚ when South Africa beat his team by 72 runs in the first test.

India’s captain refused to blame a surface on which‚ on Monday alone‚ 18 wickets fell for the addition of 200 runs in 64 overs.

And that on the fourth day of a match that‚ effectively‚ lasted only three days what with Sunday’s play washed out.

“The pitch was outstanding‚” Kohli said.

“And it wasn’t one-sided — both teams were in trouble at different stages.

“We enjoyed being part of this match as a team.”

The product of groundsman Evan Flint’s work was central to one of the most rivetting matches yet seen in South Africa.

No centuries were scored and only three men passed 50‚ and Vernon Philander’s career-best 6/42 in the second innings was the only five-wicket haul.

But this match shouldn’t be measured in conventional terms.

It was a stage for innovative aggression‚ as seen from AB de Villiers and Hardik Pandya in their first innings of 65 and 93‚ and more rip-roaring fast bowling than you could squeeze into a season of highlights packages.

Importantly‚ there was no shortage of the element without which big sport is nothing more than fodder for sponsors and broadcasters: drama.

Millions of hearts sank when Dale Steyn‚ freshly back from 13 months of recovery from shoulder and muscles injuries‚ hobbled off the field with a heel problem on Saturday.

One of those hearts belongs to Faf du Plessis‚ who said: “I feel incredibly bad for Dale. I know‚ going through injuries myself‚ it takes a lot of time and effort to try and get back.

“And Dale worked for over a year. He was challenged through periods where he started and got injured again‚ and then started and got injured again.

“So it was great to see Dale like he hadn’t gone anywhere; he was back to his best. I was standing at slip and we felt like he could nick guys off at any time.

“You were just happy to see Dale Steyn back on the park‚ so this is a huge step back for him.

“Luckily it’s not his shoulder again.

"The injury that he has is something you probably can get over a lot quicker and we are looking forward to bringing him back in the fold when he’s fit again.”

Those same hearts‚ and more‚ soared clear over Table Mountain on Monday when‚ at the fall of the ninth wicket in South Africa’s second innings‚ Steyn hobbled back onto the field to join AB de Villiers and do his bit at the crease.

“The chat in the changeroom was obviously for Dale not to bat‚” Du Plessis said.

“I mean‚ we don’t want to injure him more.

“But we said if by any chance AB is still there‚ Dale can just go and just stand there and hopefully AB can smash a few sixes.

“And‚ credit to him‚ he had his pads on before we even mentioned it to him. He wanted to get out there.”

Steyn‚ clearly fragile in his footwork‚ faced four balls before De Villiers heaved a catch down long-on’s throat.

“We didn’t get a lot of runs with that move but I think it’s the mindset that counts‚” Du Plessis said.

The Indians‚ too‚ relished their roles in the unfolding epic.

When South Africa’s wickets fell‚ Kohli swooped and whooped around the ground as if Newlands was his personal man cave.

Pandya‚ playing only his fourth test‚ batted like no Indian South Africans have seen since Kapil Dev.

The only actors relegated to the wings were spinners‚ who between them sent down only 109 of the 1 385 deliveries bowled in the match. That’s 7.87%.

It’s also a world away from India’s previous test‚ against Sri Lanka in Delhi five weeks ago‚ when spinners bowled 1 566 of the 2 512 balls — 62.34%.

Not that Du Plessis was doing the math in the afterglow of victory.

“We were talking about it pretty much after every day’s play‚ saying this is as good as it gets in test cricket‚” he said.

“If you were a fan and you came to day one‚ two and four‚ it was one of the most exciting tests you’ve seen. It was fantastic to be part of; it definitely ranks as one of my favourite test matches.

“It’s not like I scored two hundreds in this game and it’s one of my favourite games of cricket.

“There was this flow the whole time: India’s on top then South Africa’s on top‚ then they are taking the game to us and we are taking it back to them.

“Even if we had lost this game‚ we would have been very disappointed but would have said the way this game was played was remarkable.”

Don’t touch that dial: the second test starts on Saturday in Centurion.

X