South Africa’s mission now is to repeat their Centurion trick here in Cape Town. History is certainly with them, with the Proteas having only lost four Tests at Newlands post-unity – all to Australia – and never against anyone visiting from the subcontinent.
Sometimes it has seemed that the idyllic surroundings of The Oaks grass embankments and the sheer magic of Table Mountain overlooking from above, coupled with the festive New Year spirit permeating through the city has simply engulfed the tourists.
Four years ago though, on their last visit here, Pakistan probably came closest to changing the narrative with a spirited performance that senior statesman Hashim Amla believed at the time had pushed the Proteas "to our limits".
It is possibly for this reason that Kagiso Rabada is paying no attention to reports of Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur delivering the hairdryer treatment to his senior batsmen after the collapse at SuperSport Park or that batting coach Grant Flower has admitted that “the atmosphere isn't the best at the moment” within the visitors’ team camp.
Instead the Proteas spearhead believes this situation could possibly provide a source of motivation for a team that likes nothing more than giving their critics the proverbial middle finger.
“They are a never-say-die team,” Rabada told reporters at the ground yesterday. “You never quite know what they can throw at you. They have some quality bowlers and they have some batsmen that have shown they can hang around. We have our work cut out for us.”
After putting in only a two-and-half day shift at SuperSport Park, it is expected that Rabada and Co. are expected to work a fair bit harder for the 20 wickets required to seal the series here. They will be boosted, though, by the return of Newlands maestro Vernon Philander from injury, but it remains undecided whether first Test hero Duanne Olivier (11/96) will be consigned to the drinks duty.
There has been speculation that South Africa could field an all-pace attack with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj instead being handed the orange bib, but after having inspected the pitch yesterday, the Proteas’ brainstrust may possibly have to rethink their strategy.
“We have been talking about the pitch already. We just made a joke with (Newlands curator) Evan (Flint) that it looks a bit dull, and in a way that it might just be five days here,” Rabada chirped. “We will have to see, it looks a good wicket. Newlands is always a good wicket. It is always a fair contest between bat and ball.
“There has been talk. We will just have to wait and see what coach and the captain come up with,” Rabada added in reference to the Proteas playing an all-seam attack. “I don’t like to get involved in team selection. It is not my place. It is a headache, but a good headache to have.”
VERNON PHILANDER’S RECORD AT NEWLANDS
Tests: 9, Wickets: 49, Ave: 16.55, Five-wickets: 4
DALE STEYN’S RECORD AT NEWLANDS
Tests: 14, Wickets: 67, Ave: 22, Five-wickets: 1
KAGISO RABADA’S RECORD AT NEWLANDS
Tests: 4, Wickets: 24, Ave: 21.7, Five-wickets: 1, Ten wickets: 1