Cape Town - If Lord’s is the place to be for Test cricket in England then certainly much the same applies to Sahara Park Newlands as far as the South African five-day game is concerned.
It has become the fortress of the Proteas’ Castle Test squad and the venue consistently draws the biggest crowds of any ground in the country.
By the close of business on Friday a grand total of 84 000 tickets (that makes an aggregate of well over 150 000 for the series) had been sold and house full signs could become a regular sight on the first few days as the Proteas bid to overcome a 1-0 series deficit and take the Basil d’Oliveira Trophy to a decider at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium later in the month.
The Proteas have had an enviable record at Sahara Park Newlands since unity. Australia are the only visiting team to have won here (on three occasions) and this streak was beaten when the Proteas won by an innings last season. All the Australian games have taken place in March and the last time South Africa lost a New Year Test was back in 1967.
The modern day record at Newlands is: played 20, won 14, drawn 3, lost 3.
Nobody seems certain as to why the Proteas have such a dominant record at Sahara Park Newlands. The pitch is certainly a factor as it fits perfectly the brand of cricket that the Proteas want to play. It normally has a bit of pace and bounce, is good for batting for the first three days and gives the bowlers some assistance in the form of spin and variable bounce as it deteriorates on days 4 and 5.
There is also the fact that there has always been a solid core of players based in Cape Town and who learned their cricket there in the top order.
The current crop includes Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy and in previous eras you could add the names of Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs. Ashwell Prince has also played a sizeable part of his career at Newlands.
Their record against England is equally impressive. Since unity the Test matches have been won by 10 wickets in 1996 (inside three days), by an innings in 2000 and by 196 runs in 2005.
That latter victory has a parallel to today as England also came to Newlands in 2005 with a 1-0 series lead after a decisive victory at Axxess DSL St. George’s and by far the better of the draw at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead where bad light got the home side off the hook.
South Africa have five survivors from 2005 in Smith, Kallis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Makhaya Ntini while England have one in Andrew Strauss.
Morne Morkel will be making his Newlands Test match debut and the same could apply to Friedel de Wet.
Mark Boucher could reach an important landmark as he has 98 Test match dismissals against England.