At the end of it all, the Proteas won two major Test series and came out at the right end of a rollercoaster ride second to none. Here are my personal highlights of an epic summer
Favourite live moment
To be at St George’s Park on Friday March 9 was indeed a privilege. In 18 balls - effectively three overs – Kagiso Rabada took five wickets, changed the course of the series, and ultimately opened up the path to end 27 years of heartache. My Joburg colleagues may argue Vernon Philander’s last-day demolition was equally beautiful in its clinical brutality, but by then the fat lady was preparing to take her bow. Rabada’s spell created the cracks that eventually saw the Aussie dam wall explode.
For all the riveting action the Australian series produced, it could still not eclipse an absolute thriller that set 2018 in motion. India arrived in South Africa full of belief that they could win a Test series here for the first time, regardless of the conditions served up. Inevitably they were met with a Newlands surface so green it belied the serious drought the region was experiencing. Virat Kohli’s team had victory in their sights when they were set 208 to win the first Test, but the “King of Newlands” Vernon Philander was not going to be denied as he claimed 6/42 to drive the home team to a 72-run victory.
Dale Steyn being forced to leave Newlands in that first Test against India with a foot injury. The veteran fast bowler had worked so hard to return after a year-long shoulder injury, only to break down with something completely unrelated just three wickets shy of the all-time national record.
Cameron Bancroft has never had as many television cameras focused on him as on the fateful third afternoon of the third Test at Newlands. Caught red-handed trying to scratch the ball with sandpaper – which he initially lied about – before trying to hide it down his trousers, the images were broadcast on the big screen before being replayed on every screen all around the world for a couple of days as the impact of his actions started to hit home. How the young opener wishes he could review that initial decision.
AB de Villiers. Simply the greatest batsman of the modern era. When he is focused and has a point to prove, like during this past summer after an 18-month long sabbatical, De Villiers has no peer.
Long destined for higher honours, Aiden Markram had an immediate impact on the international circuit. And when the jury was still out after the former World Cup-winning U19 captain struck “soft” centuries against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, he rubberstamped his class with two sublime tons against a high-quality Australian pace attack.
Four contenders, one winner. Kagiso Rabada edges out Markram, De Villiers and, just, Philander. The poster-boy of South African cricket, Rabada digs deep every time his captain Faf du Plessis requires something magical and always manages to come up trumps through a herculean performance.
For much of the summer this title belonged to Virat Kohli. The Indian captain agitated all and sundry with his antics on the field every time his team claimed a wicket. And he backed up his swank with a mountainous amount of runs. However, Kohli loses out to Australian bad-boy David Warner. Although there were three Aussie players, including captain Steve Smith, banned for their involvement in the ball-tampering fiasco, it was universally decided that Warner was the architect behind the grand scheme that has shamed cricket Down Under.
The tearful Aussie press conferences made for gripping live television, but Smith and Bancroft’s raw media announcements on that fateful Saturday night at Newlands was something out of this world. To watch two players openly admit to pre-meditated cheating that included the entire Aussie “leadership group” could not have been scripted by the best Hollywood director.
Darren Lehmann exited his coaching post in acrimonious circumstances, and Steve Smith is unlikely to lead his country again, but every South African felt a lump in his/her throat when big Morne Morkel waved goodbye to the Proteas in his final Test at the Bullring.