CAPE TOWN – The game of cricket has taken some hard knocks in this most theatrical of series.
From sledging to stairwell brawls, through to send-offs to eventual ball-tampering, cricket certainly put on its ugly face this past couple of weeks.
But almost as if Newlands knew its celebrated place in this grand old game, it once again the provided the backdrop for the most roaring of Test match afternoons on Sunday when the action out in the middle finally soared back into the consciousness of the game’s aficionados.
For 100 unadulterated minutes, it was only the athleticism of Proteas captain Faf du Plessis, who swooped in from cover to run out the confessed ball-tamperer Cameron Bancroft, the spin and guile of left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj and the pace and hostility of Morné Morkel that occupied centre stage.
Australia lost 10 wickets for just 50 runs during this engrossing period.
There were reminders of Saturday’s disgraceful ball-tampering actions when Bancroft and the disposed Australian captain Steve Smith made their way back to the pavilion to the loud sound of boos ringing in their ears.
That was reminiscent of the treatment Du Plessis received at the Adelaide Oval two years ago, but for the most part, it was almost the perfect send-off for Morkel.
The lanky South African seamer was an emotional mess when he completed his 300th dismissal on Friday, but now he was basking in the glory of routing the arch-enemy in his last Test appearance in the city he now calls home.
Newlands certainly appreciated the efforts of the gentle giant as it rose in unison to applaud Morkel when he completed his career-best figures of 5/23, which took South Africa a magnificent 322-run victory and a 2-1 series lead heading to Johannesburg for the final instalment of this epic series.
Du Plessis was quick to pay tribute to his team’s exceptional performance over the past week, especially Morkel, who finished with match figures of 9/110.
“I look at the amazing achievement that happened over the past four days. The way we applied pressure to the Australian team, and pretty much in all facets of the game, were really good and really solid,” the skipper said.
“So, for me personally the cricket takes all the glory and all the shine – the way that we played.
“Personal performances in our team, and especially the guy sitting next to me (Morkel).
“I’ll remember this game and his performance – as one of his last – I’ll remember that as one of the sweetest moments.”
Although Australia had made a solid start to their massive run-chase, it was inevitable that their house would come crashing down once South Africa had made a couple of inroads.
The visitors’ body language was simply awful, even though stand-in captain Tim Paine fought valiantly until the very end.
A world-record chase was simply, though, too much to ask of a team that had been publicly humiliated the previous day.
“Probably last night walking off to be honest,” Paine said of his lowest moment in his Test career.
“I can’t comment on that exactly, but all we spoke about today as a team was when we crossed the line to go out and do our jobs and to compete, and for the first half of the day I thought we did that reasonably well with the ball then started okay with the bat.
“Unfortunately we fell apart in a really ordinary manner which only rubbed salt into the wounds of what’s been a horrible 24 hours for us.
“No-one likes losing and no-one likes losing in the circumstances that we have today,” the Aussie stand-in skipper added.