Once again cricket showed us why Tests are simply the best. I watched almost every ball of the Newlands Test and, as usual, a low scoring game proved fascinating. Yes, the pitch favoured South Africa but was in no way as doctored to suit the hosts as the ones on the last tour of India. It was a tough but fair track.
AB and Faf demonstrated in that first innings that, even on such a lively pitch, scoring big was possible. Also our tail wagged well and our fielding has improved. India gave it a good go but, as usual, their reliance on spin friendly slow tracks at home worked against them here. When will they ever learn?
However there was something else about the South Africans in that first test. You could see it and feel it. There was a sense of purpose and single minded intent that was obvious right from the start.
It manifested most in our pace bowling. Dale Steyn, until injured, gave a remarkable performance. His speed was right back to where it used to be in his pomp and it was the same with Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada. They were bursting with confidence and bowled superbly. Vernon Philander made hay in the conditions and was rightly made man of the match. There was no indecision or self doubt to be detected at all. Each bowler contributed to the pressure that was put on India and it was remorseless. Clearly having a West Indian quick from the tail end of their greatest era as our coach has made a remarkable difference. People forget just how dominant they were and for how long.
I love Michael Holding as a commentator. He rarely waffles and when he talks about fast bowling it is a master class. Time and again he makes reference to the fitness regime that existed in his day. An Australian rugby conditioning coach worked with the quicks then and boy did they run to maintain fitness. They also were looked after in terms of avoiding injury.
The West Indians in his day, when winning the toss, always inserted the opposition and then peppered them with pace. Invariably they had a big lead after the first innings were completed but, by bowling first, they never had to enforce the follow on. Thus their quicks always managed to get rest during the test. It is such a pleasure to hear snippets from such a legend of the game and they are always delivered in the most entertaining way.
There is no false modesty with Holding either. Clearly he has massive pride in the achievements of his sides and particularly the fast bowlers. He loathes T20 cricket and rumour has it that he is not allowed to talk about it on air. I like the cut of his jib.
Ottis Gibson has made a fabulous start to his South African adventure. He cuts a dashing figure and you can see that he wears his heart on his sleeve. You sometimes hear that sports coaches have “lost the dressing room”, meaning they have lost the respect and confidence of their team. You can see the effect this has on players. Look at United under van Gaal. Look at the Boks at the moment.
It is also obvious when the reverse is true. When a coach has won the respect and trust of the players you can see it in their body language and performance. They are living the dream. You can feel it and it is exciting. Look at what Eddie Jones has done for England rugby. I reckon Ottis is doing the same for us.
Mark my words, South African international cricket is on the up once again, based on the performance and body language of the players last week. The questions are how high can it go and for how long can it stay there? I reckon we could be at the dawn of a golden age such has been the immediate effect of this new coach.