England has the Lord’s Test. Australia celebrate the Boxing Day at the MCG. But in South Africa, the Newlands New Year’s Test certainly has the right to sit proudly alongside those prestigious days on the global cricket calendar.
There is always a great degree of anticipation in the build-up to the Test, regardless whether it is lowly New Zealand visiting the hallowed old ground this year.
The Proteas feel it too, and judging by their record at the 125-year old venue, it is place they easily call “home” no matter which franchise they are affiliated to. South Africa have not lost a Test in Cape Town since 2006.
“Playing at Newlands is as special as they come. We didn’t have a Boxing Day Test this year, so I’ll enjoy this New Year's Test even more,” Proteas Test vice-captain AB de Villiers said yesterday. “We’ve got a good sense of confidence when we play there. It’s almost like we just free up and express ourselves.”
The Proteas certainly have created a fortress at the foot of Table Mountain. And the chances of the Black Caps overturning this seems quite far-fetched at present, especially with the off-field drama that has followed them to South Africa due to former captain Ross Taylor’s axing.
The Kiwis showed some resistance in the T20 series that preceded the Test series, but their fallibility in the longer version of the game was again exposed when they conceded a first innings deficit to a youthful SA Invitational XI in Paarl over the weekend.
The South Africans know the conditions in Cape Town very well, which will be far removed from the icy University Oval in Dunedin or the windswept Basin Reserve in Wellington where these two teams played to stalemates at the beginning of the year in New Zealand. In fact, it should resemble Hamilton’s sun-baked Seddon Park where the Proteas clinched the series with a resounding nine-wicket victory.
De Villiers, who scored a sparkling undefeated 160 in his last Test innings at this venue, certainly doesn’t expect Newlands curator Evan Flynt and his groundstaff to produce anything out of the ordinary this week.
“It looks like a typical Cape Town wicket. A bit of movement in the first two days, nice and flat day three, and then four and five hopefully a bit of turn for Robbie P (Robin Peterson) and some of our spinners,” added De Villiers. “I’m not seeing anything weird or different about it, the seamers may enjoy a bit of grass on days one and two.”
That “bit of grass” is usually left for local boy Vernon Philander.
The way Philander terrorised the Black Caps in New Zealand means that Brendon McCullum and his team will be preparing for a torrid onslaught on Philander’s home patch. The only thing that could save the Kiwis is the fact that South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year is still struggling with a hamstring strain suffered in a first-class fixture last week. He managed to bowl in the nets yesterday despite undergoing a fitness test.
Fit-again Jacques Kallis also bowled yesterday and looks set to perform both all-round duties.
“Both look strong. Vernie I’m not 100 percent sure about; he’s got an injury he picked up not very long ago (whereas) Jakes has had a good amount of time to rest. He looked really good in the nets and he’ll be running in again,” De Villiers said.
“I believe both look really solid and hope both can play, but Vernon I’m not sure about. I’ve haven’t heard the injury report yet. He’s bowled quite a few balls in the middle and the nets today, so signs are that (things are coming together).”
Cape Cobras teammate Rory Kleinveldt is expected to step in should Philander not make the necessary headway in his fitness battle. - Cape Argus