THE all-important Third Test is evenly poised despite some heroics from AB de Villiers. KEN PIESSE reports from scenic Newlands:
ALL OF South Africa gasped as national hero AB de Villiers tripped on the boundary rope and almost fell as he bounced out to bat at picturesque Newlands on Day 1 of the much-awaited Third Test.
To chants of “AB, AB, AB”it was one of the few moments of mortality from South Africa’s cricket superman who again threatened to decimate the Australians before lifting a drive straight to mid-off.
His 64 was simply awesome, full of crisp, assured shots which flew to the square boundaries.
On an opening day noted for a lack of any mid-pitch argy bargy, de Villiers outshone all his teammates, even the gritty opener Dean Elgar whose century could still be the match-winning knock.
Forty eight of de Villiers’ runs came square or backward of the wicket. Included was a near six slashed over the offside which almost made the magnificent stand of oaks to the side of the Western Province members.
De Villiers even apologised to Mitchell Starc after an intended cover drive was edged wide of second slip.
It was a genuine surprise when he forfeited his wicket in the final session of an absorbing opening day’s play which saw the Test evenly poised after the Proteas had dominated each of the first two sessions.
Australia owed its improved standing going into the second day to the efforts of Cummins who was thrashed early before being swung around with the wind and taking four key wickets, including de Villiers.
Cummins had conceded 47 runs from his first 10 overs before taking four for 17 from his next 11 overs, all delivered downwind.
The match started under brilliant blue skies, the Australians unchanged from the team which lost in Port Elizabeth.
Australia’s much-vaunted pace attack was made to look ordinary, so well did Elgar and de Villiers play.
But once de Villiers departed Elgar was unable to maintain his dominance, adding only 12 runs as six wickets fell around him.
For all its natural beauty and array of attractions Cape Town is struggling to stay afloat with unemployment at 26 per cent and property investment down 50 per cent. Severe water restrictions are in place and the importance of the tourism dollar over this week with hundreds of Australian supporters at the Test cannot be overvalued.
On the opening day of the Test, Aussie fans have been seen in various florid shirts, footy guernseys and the like, a rendition of “We’re a Happy Team at Hawthorn” bringing a standing ovation late in the day.
Newlands is a magnificent scenic venue with its older stands and grass patches, including a canopy of oaks on the square boundaries. The club even has dozens of beanbags set up at long-on, on the western side of the ground.
Fewer than 5,000 were present on the first day, continuing the disappointing crowds despite the high standard of the contest.
South Africa 8/266 (Elgar 121 not out, de Villiers 64). Cummins 4/64, Hazlewood 2/37.
Author: Ken Piesse
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. He has written, edited and published more than 70 sports books. Signed copies of his latest cricket book Heroes of the Hour, cricket’s quintessential moments from Bradman and Lillee to Warne and Steve Smith, is available from www.cricketbooks.com.au