Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Some slightly embittered Test-loving purists may well have stayed away, but Newlands began its cricketing New Year almost as though normal service was on offer ... with a virtual full house providing a pulsating atmosphere on Friday.
Yes, the novel Twenty20 meeting between the Proteas and Springboks, to mark the start of the three-day “Festival of Cricket”, was light years removed in gravitas terms from more customary five-day international fare expected at the picturesque venue over the period, but some 15,000 spectators and lots more television viewers seemed blissfully unfazed by the stand-in brew.
“Good time had by all” was probably the horribly clichéd but most fitting verdict to emerge from the light-hearted spectacle, with the national cricketers sticking to the unwritten script by generously facilitating a pretty tight finish.
If anything, the various Boks either past or present cramming their chests and biceps into cricket shirts probably revelled in the rare occasion more.
They did, after all, confirm that some of them are truly no mugs at the summer pursuit – Bob Skinstad was just one to stamp his ample, natural personality on proceedings – and also only reminded that if sportspeople have irresistible competitive juices at a chosen pursuit, they will also transfer fairly seamlessly to others when required.
It was that particular observation which got me thinking that if a dissident handful of folk got little pleasure out of the fare witnessed, their ranks might well have included a couple of nervy Super Rugby coaches, already hard at work planning their 2014 campaigns which begin next month.
New Sharks director of rugby Jake White and Stormers head coach Allister Coetzee, for example, would have found it difficult to suppress winces as they watched such prize assets as Willem Alberts, Frans Steyn, Bismarck du Plessis, Duane Vermeulen and Tiaan Liebenberg show a quiet but still tangible and impressive resolve not to be the butt of any giggles for rank incompetence at a different pursuit.
Let’s face it, injury mishaps are a fact of life in an array of sports, and if they are still likeliest to happen to rugby players in their own, notoriously collision-dominated environment, disaster striking slightly outside their areas of main familiarity can hardly be discounted.
You don’t want to cocoon people too obsessively (former England goalkeeper Dave Beasant once missed two months of a soccer season after dropping a bottle of mayonnaise on a toe in the supposed sanctuary of his own home) but bosses can get neurotic about their sporting trump-cards in this pro era ... and every now and then on Friday there were moments when anxiety just flickered.
Behemoth loose forwards Alberts (Sharks) and Vermeulen (Stormers), for instance, threw themselves about with illuminating stealth and zeal in the field.
It did not fully escape this writer’s attention that the 120kg former, who traditionally suffers shoulder woes, made one stop where he landed quite heavily on the right one and almost hyper-extended his arm, whilst the latter -- no stranger to the surgeon’s knife and the dreaded medical abbreviation “ACL” -- went forcefully to the turf on both knees in bravely preventing a boundary in a pretty unorthodox way.
Then how about that burly backline unit, Steyn, crashing over the rope while attempting a catch and leaving a noticeable puncture in an advertising board from key event sponsor Cell C?
Needless to say, the utility back also batted later in cap rather than helmet – once a free spirit, always a free spirit – and did that despite there being tennis ball-like bounce on offer and one or two Proteas specialist seamers like Lonwabo Tsotsobe not being shy to go cheekily well back of a length from time to time.
Hearts might have been in mouths in the immediate proximity, too, when dual Bok and Sharks allies Alberts and Du Plessis converged on a rolling, boundary-heading ball near the fence from different sides and, if both had put in a dive, might have engineered a head-on smash with rather gruesome consequences for both enforcers.
Keep in mind that painful bodily clashes aren’t reserved for rugby alone: Steve Waugh (broken nose) and Jason Gillespie (fractured shin) can vouch for that after they ran sickeningly into each other during a Test between Australia and Sri Lanka at Kandy in 1999 – a subsequent picture taken of them alongside each other in hospital beds made them look like bandage-laden survivors of the brutality of Gallipoli in World War I.
Fortunately no such apocalyptic events did occur at Newlands, which was probably just as well because “Bissie” reminded in a post-match TV interview that Super Rugby training for him – and presumably several others who played the T20 game -- begins as soon as Monday.
Just one twisted Bok ankle on the increasingly greasy evening surface might have been enough to can this worthwhile exercise for future purposes.
Instead, I fancy there may instead be spirited calls for another go some time. Don’t you?*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing