“World cricket still has not recovered from the hangover of Cape Town Test. It had been an absolute see-saw battle between two of the best test teams in the world. Cape Town offered all the ingredients which are required to make a contest simmering”.
It was always going to be a spectacle worth watching. The top two Test nations battling it out on a seaming surface at Newlands with millions in India tuning in to the television to witness how this juggernaut of a side at home would fare in tougher foreign conditions. It could not have gotten better. Three days of action-packed cricket and a stupendous thriller at the end was an exhibition of the highest quality. Here we compile a list of five factors that contributed to make the Newlands Test an edge-of-the-seat cliff-hanger of immense entertainment.
Aggressive line-ups and approach
India stunned everybody when they chose a line-up eerily similar to their ODI outfit. South Africa also did not back off and unleashed, for the first time, their four-pronged seam attack comprising Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel.
Recent form and the need for a positive mindset must have played a role in the selection but it contributed to the fabulous entertainment that this Test match was.
If it was AB de Villiers showing the way with a 17 run over off Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first innings, it was Hardik Pandya returning the favour in India’s innings with an equally belligerent knock. Yet the bowlers were always in the battle unlike in pitches made flat as a pancake.
That a gully was omnipresent showed the kind of aggressive intent by both skippers and it also reflected in the line and length at which the bowlers bowled.
An outrageously good pitch
A corker of a pitch, prepared to help both seamers and batsmen, contributed a great deal to the circus that Newlands was for four days. It was by no means an unplayable wicket and the manner in which de Villiers and Pandya made runs showed that counter-attacking with good, soft hands would fetch you runs.
Cape Town had received little rain in the build-up to the Test match and a dry, unresponsive surface was expected. Instead, South Africa – seething from their 3-0 loss in the dry, dust bowls in the Indian sub-continent – flew in the Centurion curator, Bryan Bloy, to prepare the wicket.l for Newlands.
“The boys don’t just want a fast wicket, they also want seam movement. The idea is to work on South Africa’s strength and India’s weakness. Bloy was flown in to assist Flint in his preparations. I would like to believe this is how modern-day cricket works with home teams playing to their strength. Remember the 2015 series between these two teams in India?” a CASA official had smirked before the Tests.
Although it nearly played into India’s hand, the Test match was an absolute beauty to watch with the bowlers always in it.
Rain on the third day of the Test, a rarity in Cape Town, was welcomed by the locals, but the covered pitch made it impossible for batting on day 4 with the wicket seaming more than on day 1. An outrageous 18 wickets fell on day 4 and it resulted in mind-boggling spells from fast bowlers on either side.
Positive intent from the skippers
As much as the pitch, the aggressive intent of the two skippers contributed a great deal in making the Newlands Test what it was. Faf du Plessis opted to bat on a bowling pitch first up, trusting his batsman to work their way to a good total, which they almost did.
Virat Kohli, on the other hand, stuck to his quicker men, restrained from the enticing option of unleashing Ravichandran Ashwin early, and had a packed off-side field and a cordon constantly kept busy.
From DRS calls to constant chit-chat behind the stumps, everything about the two captains reeked of aggressive intent. A conservative approach would only have led to the downfall of their respective teams and it was to their credit that du Plessis and Kohli realised this and retorted accordingly.
Immaculate bowling spells from seamers
The quicker men from either side were on top of their game with eye-catching spells that blew batsmen away in clusters. If it was Bhuvneshwar Kumar with the new ball wrecked havoc for India, all four of South Africa’s seamers had a wicket apiece when India lost their first four.
Mohammad Shami, sluggish to start off with, and Jasprit Bumrah, were on top of their game in the second innings, rarely swaying from an outside off-stump line and consistently testing the defence of batsmen with seam movement off the deck. Their burst allowed India to pick up eight wickets in the morning session of day 4 and set up the game for an edge of the seat thriller.
Vernon Philander then showcased his range with his accuracy, nagging lengths and subtle seam movement. Complementing him was a fiery Morne Morkel and an equally adept Kagiso Rabada, all of whom stepped up in the absence of Dale Steyn to give South Africa satisfactory win.
Never give up attitude
When the top two Test teams in the rankings clash against each other, you expect a well fought, enchanting contest and that is exactly what these two teams provided. Every time one team was written out of the contest, an individual or a group fought back to maintain the balance in the match and until the last Indian wicket fell, there was no way one could predict a winner in this contest.
AB de Villiers picked up South Africa from the rut they were in on day 1 and Quinton de Kock then resuscitated after the quick fall of de Villiers. India fought back through Hardik Pandya’s sensational hitting just when it looked like they were all but out of the contest.
In the second innings, it seemed like South Africa were on top when India’s seamers returned on day 4 to plummet the innings and salvage the balance of the game. While the visitors started off well in the second innings, Vernon Philander ripped through the middle-order to promise the hosts a win. Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar then led India’s revival, which at first seemed like just a consolation partnership but quickly put South Africa under a lot of stress. Philander then snared three in an over to seal the match, an exceptional advertisement for Test cricket.