South Africa Tour Diary: Cricket in paradise

Newlands is among the great cricket venues in the world. From the ground, the sight of the Table Mountain can lift the spirit of the cricketers.

Serene surroundings: The view from top is awesome; you get a panoramic view of Cape Town and its famous harbour.   -  S. Dinakar

Cape Town brings with it freshness and freedom, even during times of Covid. The breeze from the limitless Atlantic Ocean is refreshing. The sight of the majestic Table Mountain is inspiring. The colours of the city are bright. People still flock to Camps Bay, a popular beach with bistros and bars that are always invariably full.

Cape Town has a character like all great cities of the world. The rare tango of mountains and coastline – they are seldom so close – add to the city’s lustre. It’s a bright place of sunshine and friendly folk. It is also among the safest cities in South Africa; the crime rate here is significantly lower than in the other parts.

For this writer, a trip to Table Mountain soothes the senses. It relaxes the mind, rejuvenates the body. The view from the top is awesome; you get a panoramic view of Cape Town and its famous harbour. And then people wait to see the beautiful sunset, in a blaze of orangish-red, over the ocean.

The restaurant atop the mountain – a cable car takes you up – serves you hot coffee. It’s refreshing.

The Table Mountain also overlooks the Newlands cricket ground, creating a glorious backdrop to the arena.

Newlands is among the great cricket venues in the world. It’s a lovely open ground with pretty little stands and a small hill.

From the ground, the sight of the Table Mountain can lift the spirit of the cricketers. With the series on a knife-edge at 1-1, both teams need all the mental edge they can gather.

Ahead of the Test hangs the big question? Will Virat Kohli play? Kohli pulled out of the second Test citing a back spasm and there are doubts about his match fitness.

Kohli, though, hits the ground running. He nails the practice sessions, addresses the pre-match media digital interaction, and declares himself fit for the decider.

And Kohli proceeds to win the spin of the coin. It’s the third successive win at the toss for India in the series. Can this luck translate into a historic maiden Test series triumph for India in South Africa?

Meanwhile, there is a scare in the media box. One journalist tests positive for Covid. His identity is not revealed. Covid protocols in the media box are reinforced.

The cricket is engrossing. And it is a game of fortune swings. This is also Kagiso Rabada’s 50th Test and the spearhead bowls with fire.

Familiar face: Ed Rainsford played 39 ODIs for Zimbabwe between 2004 and 2010. Rainsford is part of a government-run South African channel broadcasting the game and speaks Hindi with quite the perfect accent and talks in Bengali too.   -  S. Dinakar

 

The game brings you into contact with interesting, colourful personalities. Among them is Ed Rainsford, a Zimbabwe seamer, who played 39 ODIs for his country between 2004 and 2010.

A role in the media gives former cricketers an opportunity to stay in touch with the game and Rainsford is part of a government-run South African channel broadcasting the game.

Rainsford, a friendly character, had visited India several times, featuring in the Duleep and Deodhar Trophies when the BCCI invited a Zimbabwe XI to play in these tournaments.

He speaks Hindi with quite the perfect accent and talks in Bengali too; after the India-South Africa series, he will be off to Bangladesh for the BPL Twenty20 tournament.

Rainsford tells us that the economy of Zimbabwe is improving, and things are gradually getting better in that picturesque country. It’s welcome news.

The Test sees several key moments. Kohli holds his 100th Test catch, a tribute to his fitness and reflexes.

And Rishabh Pant, during an outstanding second innings hundred, bats with the ease of a natural and swats the pacemen around with the flair that only comes to the gifted,

The see-saw Test then explodes. This time the Indians’ anger is at the DRS. Dean Elgar wins a review for leg-before, the bowler being R. Ashwin, and the Indian team sees red.

Elgar is rapped below the knee roll and the Indians are convinced the South African is out. Things go out of hand. Kohli, vice-captain K.L. Rahul and Ashwin make it a point to go near the stump mic and make comments that do not project SuperSport, the official broadcaster of the series, in good light. Kohli kicks the air in disgust, a case of a captain behaving badly.

The bigger question is can DRS be manipulated? The Indians certainly think so since there is a human element in the process.

Anyway, the Indians lose their cool and the plot. The South African meticulously whittle down the target of 212.

And on the fourth morning, the Indians put down catches and the Proteas coast to a seven-wicket win.

It’s a tremendous triumph against the odds for South Africa. Coach Mark Boucher said, “A lot of people wrote us off after the first day of the first Test.”

From there a transitional South Africa, led by Captain Courageous Dean Elgar, has come back to win the series. Along the way, the Proteas have found heroes, none more than the technically impressive and fluent Keegan Petersen and beanpole left-arm seamer Marco Jansen.

It’s time for the South Africans to celebrate a believe-it-or-not series win. For the Indians, it’s a gilt-edged opportunity missed against a Protea side rebuilding with several stars retired.

The Indians are unlikely to get such an opportunity again. The disappointment is pronounced.

The Test is over, and a bombshell arrives the next day. Virat Kohli quits as Test captain after seven years in the job. He was a highly driven captain who brought passion to the side, particularly in Test cricket. But he was also a control freak who rubbed some teammates the wrong way.

One era ends and another begins. The show must go on.