CAPE TOWN – For Newlands the sensational often seems to be routine, but on Monday the grand old ground simply showed off.
It was 64 mesmerising overs that had a stunning crowd for the first Monday of the working year in Cape Town absolutely enthralled from the very first ball. Eighteen wickets fell overall, but it was the 10 Indian wickets, and especially the six that Vernon Philander snared, that had everyone out of their seats.
Newlands have had many favourite sons. From Barlow to Kallis, the faithful have shown their appreciation. But not even legends such as those have brought them the type of unadulterated delight that Philander serves up at his home ground.
The “Ravensmead Wrecker” has now played eight Tests at the foot of Table Mountain and taken 47 wickets. These are numbers that stand the test of time.
India’s bowlers gave themselves a fighting chance yesterday morning when they rattled the home side. South Africa lost eight wickets for 65, leaving the tourists a very gettable 208 runs for victory. They had scored one run more in their first innings, which would filled the dressingroom with the belief they could become the first subcontinent team to win a Newlands Test.
But Monday exposed why India’s World No 1 Test ranking is subjective due to the fact they have earned that status by primarily playing on the bunsen burners of home.
When the challenge of getting runs in conditions that offer up pace, seam movement and bounce they are as lost a child in a maze.
And that is exactly what South Africa exploited to perfection yesterday. Without the injured Dale Steyn, who showed great courage earlier in the day when he hobbled all the way to crease with a broken heel to eke out a few extra runs with AB de Villiers, it was left to Philander to spearhead the attack that saw South Africa win by 72 runs.
It was equally enthralling as his Test debut at this very ground when he brought the mighty Australians to their knees with 5/15. Only this time it was even better for Philander, who finished with career-best figures of 6/42 – improving on his 6/44 against New Zealandin Hamilton in 2011/12.
The fact that it happened in such haste – Philander took the last three Indian wickets in four balls – fuelled the drama even further.
“This is as good as it gets in Test cricket,” Proteas captain Faf du Plessis said. “The crowd was incredible and we felt their support. It was amazing being on the field. This was one of my favourite Test matches.
“First India were on top. Then we were. As an advert for Test cricket this is as good as it gets. The fans got their full value of money because there was entertainment right through. Even if I lost this game I would have been very disappointed, but the way this Test match was played was remarkable. I like to think that we are a team that takes risks to win at Test cricket.”
India certainly played their part in the thriller that see-sawed for effectively only three days – the third day was washed out completely.
Kohli’s wicket was always going to be the one that would determine the contest, but even after Philander sent him packing for 28, the tourists gave it one last shot through Ravichandran Ashwin (37) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s 49-run partnership for the eighth wicket.
"It was not one-sided ... both sides were in it at different stages. As a team, we really enjoyed being part of this Test match and so did South Africa," Kohli said.
"Everyone in the change-room is really disappointed with today’s effort because we were feeling really good at lunch when we restricted them to under 210. To not having got the job done, it hurts and it should hurt because that’s the only way you can rectify the mistakes and come out with more motivation and in the next match."
South Africa: 286 & 130 (De Villiers 35, Shami 3/28)
India: 290 & 135 (Ashwin 37, Philander 6/42)
South Africa won by 72 runs