|Newlands Cricket Stadium | Cape Town|
The history of Newlands is written by the blood, sweat, toil, indomitable spirit and excellence of a group of sensational cricketers whose heroic feats ignited Western Province, the Cape Cobras and South Africa.
Some of South Africa’s greatest captains and batsmen plied their trade in the shadow of Table Mountain under the oaks.
Several players shaped the undeniable cricketing culture in Cape Town yet were denied the privilege of representing South Africa due to the shameful intrusion of apartheid and politics. Had their talent being fully embraced in the country of their birth, they would have been undoubted legends at the iconic headquarters of the royal game in the Western Cape, Newlands.
These players included Basil D’Oliveira, Cecil Abrahams, Taliep Salie, Gesant (Tiny) Abed, Sulaiman (Dik) Abed, Vincent Barnes and Saait Magiet.
Newlands, so often considered the graveyard of fast bowlers and an ally of touring teams against South Africa, has become a SA fortress since unity, as it yielded 26 wins from 31 One Day Internationals and 19 test-wins in 29 clashes in white uniform in the past 25 years.
The most productive player with the blade in internationals has been Jacques Kallis, one of the greatest all-rounders ever to have played the game. He smashed 2181 test runs at an average of 72.70 and 662 in One Day Internationals (ODIs) in the cathedral of Western Province-cricket, Newlands.
Few of his centuries compared at his beloved home ground compared to the back-to-back tons against India in 2010/2011.
He blasted 161 in the first innings, and faced adversity in the second when a severely bruised rib curtailed his movement, yet he defied the Indian pace attack, the odds and the threatening spin of Harbhajan Singh to score an unbeaten 109 in that New Year’s test in 2011.
In the first innings, he weathered the storm when the ball was seaming around and South Africa was in trouble. He was hit in the rib area and the injury was bad enough that it could have ruled out for a fortnight.
He was last man out scoring a superb century.
In the South African second innings, he required some painkilling injections and endured severe heat of 35 degrees Celsius to make his stand.
Kallis, normally the epitome of classical batsman-ship, played a reverse sweep off Singh to cause some mental damage to the Indians’ approach. He placed the ball immaculately behind square, either finer or squarer to outmanoeuvre the visitors.
Another Newlands-legend, Mark Boucher, who had added 103 with Kallis, said later: “I just spoke to the doctor, and he reckons it’s like someone actually breaking their own rib. Jus goes to show the character…in my eyes, in my opinion, we have got probably one of the greatest cricketers that has ever lived in our own country,” he said.
“He has got the technique to play in all conditions. I would rate him up there, very up. After Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis is the best player in the world,” Singh said. (Source: www.cricinfo.com, 5th January, 2011).
Newlands’ heroes came in all shapes and sizes since unity. There were the classical batsman, the counter-punchers and the defiant scrappers. And then there were the entertainers, who loved the hero worship of the crowd and had them dancing Saturday Night Fever on the grass embankments. Few used the stage so extravagantly and so elegantly when he was at the peak of his considerable powers than Herschelle Gibbs.
In the New Year’s test at Newlands in 2003, Gibbs and Graeme Smith hammered a mediocre Pakistani attack into submission.
Not only did he become the sixth South African to score 3000 test runs and the holder (at that time) of the highest individual test innings at Newlands, but it was an exhibition that made many critic rate it as the best innings seen at this hallowed turf for many a year.
His 200 came at the rate of knots, having faced 211 balls. He stroke 26 fours and deposited five balls into the stands.
Gibbs said he idolized the batting of Peter Kirsten and Daryll Cullinan as a young player. “There was never a better striker of the ball through the covers than Daryll. I would sit and watch him (forever),” he added.
“The bowlers I most enjoyed playing with at Newlands were Meyrick Pringle, Alan Dawson and Claude Henderson. I remembered playing in a test at Perth with Claude as night-watchman.
“He told me he wanted to pull Brett Lee (who was bowling at express pace of 155 km/h). The next delivery, he tried to hook but the ball hit him against the helmet before he was into his shot. I walked up to Claude and said: ‘At least you tried.’”
Gibbs was often perceived to be an under achiever for South Africa, but his detractors failed to notice that he batted so quickly that he changed the complexion of a match within a session. Two of the most brilliant centuries of all time in One Day Cricket were delivered by Gibbs. One came at Headingley in 1999 when he scored 101 against Australia and made Glenn McGrath look ordinary.
The other was his 175 off 111 balls that set up arguably the greatest successful victory in modern-day One Day Internationals, against Australia at the Wanderers in March 2016. South Africa reached 438 for nine off the penultimate ball of the match.
When Gibbs was in his stride, he could make great fast bowlers look pedestrian and below-par.
If current Twitter-following is anything to go by, Hashim Amla is one of the most endured and beloved of South African players.
He is also one of the most productive, and as a Newlands-based batsman, one of the very finest ever produced by South Africa.
He made a stuttering start to his international career. Kepler Wessels, a former South African captain, noted that Amla abbreviated his back-swing and improved the balance of his stance when he was re-inserted into the South African team.
The conversion-rate of the Mighty #, as he is known, is something to relish, as he has slammed 25 tons in 92 tests.
Every batsman experiences a wilderness period, like Kallis did on the tour of England in 2008 when he managed only 104 test runs.
Amla endured the same misfortune in 2015, scoring only 251 runs in his so-called winter of discontent.
But he led a spirited South African fight-back with his 201 in 682 minutes in the New Year’s test at Newlands against England when the hosts had their collective backs to the wall.
He hit 27 boundaries in 467 minutes, but few would understand the mental importance of this knock, as South Africa, after four defeats in five tests, was in dire straits and under immense pressure. Yet Amla showed his steel to drag South Africa out of the mire.
A batsman whose wrist and bat speed through midwicket, past point and through the covers have made him the darling of the masses, Amla is one of the only batsmen in international cricket who can bat in every gear from one to six. He can scrap with the best of them, but also massacre an attack.
This quality was on display at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium when he blasted an unbeaten 68 off 37 balls to power South Africa to a lopsided 9-wicket win in a T20-clash against England.
But it was that double century under duress which might be remembered the longest by his Newlands-fans, although it was in stark contrast to Ben Stokes’ fastest 250 of all time at the same venue in the same test.
Desmond Haynes will be forever associated with the formative years of three talented young batsmen who all went on to represent South Africa, Gibbs, HD Ackerman and Kallis.
Haynes and Gordon Greenidge shared in 16-century partnerships and are rated one of the finest opening partners of the modern era in which the famous Caribbean team under first sir Clive Lloyd and later Viv Richards dominated all-comers.
The former Pakistan-great, Wasim Akram, described Haynes as one of the toughest batsmen he ever bowled to. “He would never repeat a mistake, which is one of the trademarks of world-class batsmen,” he once told Karthik Parimal, a correspondent with CountryCricket.
Hylton Ackerman (sr), a former captain of Western Province, fondly remembered how Sir Garfield Sobers, arguably the greatest all-rounder of all time, once shared a dinner table in Cape Town with Ackerman and Haynes.
A relaxed Haynes relayed how he managed a sizable total and then left it to the middle-order to administer the last rites to the opposition.
“The great man (Sir Garfield) completely lost it and laid into Desmond. He told him: ‘never leave it to somebody else. You finish the job,’” Ackerman said.
Haynes was a man who finished the job regularly for Western Province. And he learned from his compatriots.
Richards, the master blaster, often targeted the opposition’s finest bowler, like Bob Willis of England, and terrorized him with a vast array of shots. It demoralized the opponents to such a degree that they completely disintegrated.
Haynes used the same ploy with some success at Newlands.
Apart from that, he shared his secrets with admiring younger players like Ackerman, Gary Kirsten, Gibbs and Kallis.
Haynes amassed 7487 runs in 116 tests at an average of 42.29, and hammered 8648 in 238 One Day Internationals for the West Indies at an average of 41.37.
Ashwell Prince was another of the batting legends of Newlands.
A hallmark of his domestic and international career was his defiance.
“A day before the first test against Australia in 2008, I broke my thumb. I missed the whole series, and JP (Duminy) did brilliantly well (in the series).
“When I left Australia, I was promised I would have my place back for the return-series.
“They did not plan for JP to do as well as he did, and they could not leave out JP,” said Prince.
“Before the third test at Newlands, I got a call from the convenor of selectors, Mike Procter. He told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was that I was picked. The bad news was that they could only fit me in as opening batsman,” he added.
Prince dealt with that challenge, and with the menace of Mitchell Johnson, in astonishing fashion, as he scored 150 to set up a test win for the hosts.
“The era was an enjoyable one for me in the Western Province team, as we had Graeme Smith from Transvaal, Neil Johnson, Herschelle Gibbs establishing himself, Andrew Puttick, Lloyd Ferreira and HD (Ackerman) leading the team.
“We also had a good attack that could regularly take 20 wickets, with Alan Dawson, Roger Telemachus, Paul Adams, Claude Henderson and Charl Willoughby,” he remembered.
“There was so much depth in the squad that most of the players pushing for national honours,” he added.
“I remember when Vernon (Philander) came into the team as an 18-year old. What stood out most for me when we had a conversation about cricket, was his level of understanding of things. He understood the game better than most people his age,” Prince added.
A highlight of Prince’s career was the final of the 2000/2001-series, where Western Province trounced the visitors, Border, by an innings and 26 runs.
Prince and Thami Tsolekile, the wicketkeeper-batsman, both managed 53 in the first innings, but the mainstay and kingpin of that innings was a young Graeme Smith, who struck 183 in 603 minutes to power the hosts to a comprehensive win.
Smith would become South Africa’s youngest and also longest-serving and most successful skipper.
When the website www.cricinfo.co.za selected an all-time great South African X1-team, Smith’s name appeared next to that of Barry Richards at the top of the order.
Smith would smash 27 test centuries at an average of 48.25 in his career.
Perhaps his words to the chairman of the national selectors after he did not make the cut for the 2003 Cricket World Cup-team encapsulated the essence of the man. “I will prove you wrong,” he said.
Three days later, he scored 151 against Pakistan as he and Gibbs slammed 368 for the opening wicket.
The two would be involved in three triple-century stands for the Proteas.
Smith was a defiant opener whose determination, magnificent eye and determination to succeed despite a slightly unorthodox manner of accumulating runs (especially on the on-side) set him apart.
Nasser Hussain spoke about Smith as a ‘Whatsisname’ before the 2003-series against England started.
Smith answered by smashing 362 runs in 10 hours and 41 minutes in the first test and Hussain resigned after that humiliation.
Hailed by Gary Kirsten as South Africa’s greatest-ever captain, arguably Smith’s greatest strengths were his ability to lead from the front and his performances in the fourth innings of tests.
When South Africa required contributions against all the odds, Smith provided it.
He was able to get on top of an attack and dominate it when the force was with him.
In 2008, his unbeaten 154 at Edgbaston in the fourth innings catapulted South Africa to a first test-series win on England soil since 1965. It was an innings on a deteriorating pitch which was described as one of the most excellent ever by a foreign batsman on England soil.
South Africa, humiliated by Johnson’s 8-61 at the WACA, had the daunting mission to strike 414 for a win.
Duminy, in his maiden test, struck an unbeaten 50 to make Western Province-fans grin as this home grown-product, who matriculated at Plumstead High, showed his mettle. Smith was one of two South African batsmen to hammer a century.
Duminy scored the winning runs, but Smith was the talismanic figure at the foundational phases of the chase who bossed the fast bowlers to set up the highest successful chase in history on Australian soil.
“For Graeme to end up with an average above 48 and then to have the type of leadership success he did have, is (an absolutely) massive achievement,” Kirsten said. “You look at his record in the fourth innings and his ability to make important contributions. That gave the team a lot of confidence. It gives your team a lot of comfort to know that the captain is walking the talk. (Source: www.cricinfo.com, 7th March 2014)
Smith led South Africa in all but the first eight tests of his career of 117 appearances. “Having played under him, which I really enjoyed even though he was a young captain at the time, I felt he was believable to me, which I really enjoyed even though he was a young captain at the time, I felt he was believable to me. He had credibility in my eyes. Because I knew he would front up to difficult situations,” he added. (Source: www.cricinfo.com, 7th March, 2014).
Duminy’s finest hour came at the MCG when he rescued South Africa from almost certain defeat with a world-class 166 and set up a nine-wicket win in tandem with Dale Steyn.
Subsequently, Duminy became an integral part of South African success. His struggles against off-spinners have occasionally undermined his effectiveness in test cricket, but Duminy’s talent and doggedness won the day after being axed.
In the 2015/2016-season, he established a 393-run five-wicket record partnership with Dane Vilas as he hammered a career-best unbeaten 260 at Paarl for the Cape Cobras.
Subsequently, the all-rounder returned to the South African test team for the fourth test against England.
His batting is aesthetically pleasing and he makes boundary-hitting seem simple, especially with his impeccable timing through the off-side.
Duminy has been described by HD Ackerman as South Africa’s most intelligent T20-batsman. His astute understanding of when to rotate and when to explode with boundary-bashing, make him a national treasure.
If ever there was a player who modelled the work-ethic needed to succeed, at franchise and international level, it is Gary Kirsten.
In the publication The selected: the 25 greatest South African cricketers of all time, by Michel Owen-Smith and Neil Manthorp, HD Ackerman reflected on his approach to the game. He said: “The younger players were in complete awe of the way he prepared for a Province game. He set an example which humbled us all. When he was available to play, we all knew exactly what we were getting because he always wanted to play, he wanted to be there, he wanted to play to the absolute best of his ability and he wanted the team to win.
“Of course there were times when other international players would rather have rested after a long tour overseas, but not Gazza. It was inspiring having him around,” he added.
Kirsten was converted from a middle-order batsman to an opener by the former coach Robin Jackman in the 1989/90-season domestically. He responded by slamming 175 in the Currie Cup fnal, as he and his elder brother, Peter, who struck 130, flourished. “We batted forever, and it was while I was standing at the non-striker’s end that it began to sink in. I was batting with Peter and I was an opener. I finally accepted that I might, just might, be good enough,” Kirsten said in The selected.
Amongst the biggest hogwash dished up by writers is that Kirsten was not a talented cricketer, but merely a dogged toiler. For an ‘untalented’ cricketer, what was he doing while scoring 7298 runs at an average of 45.27 with 21 centuries in 101 tests, and 6798 international runs in the 50-over format at an average of 40.95?
Gazza’s contribution to Western Province-cricket was immense, finishing with 5671 runs at an average of 48.47, while Peter smashed 9087 (at an average of 41.87), but it has to be said that first-class competition during the 1980’s when Peter was in his pomp, was of a superior quality, and he faced a litany of world-class fast bowlers in South Africa at domestic level.
Amongst the finest of the past decade were Andrew Puttick, Justin Ontong and Stiaan van Zyl.
Van Zyl is a left-hander whose signature shot through the covers has raised comparisons with the legendary Graeme Pollock when South Africa’s player of the century was in his pomp.
He already showed glimpses of excellence in his first full season, smashing 552 runs at an average of 50.36.
Van Zyl grew in stature during the period from 2012 to 2014 as his confidence against the spinners increased and he improved his ability to rotate the strike against the slow men.
During the 2012/2013-season, he smashed 673 runs at an average of 61.18 in the four-day series, as the Cobras romped to the title. They retained it the next season, and Van Zyl and Ontong were the two premier batsmen, scoring 933 and 927 runs respectively.
Ontong is a right-hander of true class and has an array of attractive attacking options either past point, through the covers or through midwicket. When in full stride, it is difficult to contain this captain of the Cobras, and he reached his milestone of 10 000 runs in the 2014/2015-season.
A captain of the South Africa A-side that won series against Australia A in 2013 and 2014, he is a lead-from-the-front player with the instinctive ability to be one step ahead of the opposition.
One of his traits is his attacking nature and his ability to combine superbly with either Van Zyl, Vilas or Yaseen Vallie to transfer the pressure on the opposition with his swash-buckling shot-making.
The South African selectors rewarded Van Zyl for his excellence at first-class level in 2014 and he made his debut against the West Indies in December, slamming a century on test debut.
The decision to elevate him up the order to open the innings, back-fired and Van Zyl failed at number two as colleague of Dean Elgar.
But he has shown during almost a decade at number three that he has the makings of an international batsman. “He has displayed his quality at first-class level over a prolonged period. I believe he can return to the SA team,” mentioned Neil McKenzie, a retired SA player in 2015 when Van Zyl was dropped.
Longevity has been a hallmark of Puttick’s career. He was a member of the famous team of 2000/2001 that won the four-day spoils when Eric Simons and Vincent Barnes were at the helm and Smith’s sensational innings in the final settled the deal for the hosts at Newlands.
But he has been a consistent performer in all formats for the Cape Cobras. Remarkably, in 2014/2015, he struck 652 runs at an average of 72.44 in the Momentum One Day Cup competition.
In the last three years of his career, his name has been mentioned alongside Stephen Cook as a possible replacement for Smith upon his retirement.
Yet, he has not consistently produced enough centuries in the past three seasons to edge Cook in pursuit of an opening birth for the Proteas.
Puttick, when at the peak as a left-handed stylist, has an appetite for big runs and has a career-best 250*.
In the penultimate match of the 2015/2016-competition against the Sunfoil Dolphins, he completed his 10 000th first-class run.
He has now assembled 10 057 runs at an average of 40.71. The left-handed opener has also struck 11 List A-centuries and has amassed 5095 runs in the shorter format.
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