Newlands set for bumper New Year’s crowd

The 85 345 spectators who saw 1256 runs smashed in the first innings of one of the most remarkable cricket tests played at the iconic Newlands stadium – at the start of 2016 between South Africa and England – might just return for the New Year’s Test in 2017.

Sure, there won’t be any members of the vocal Barmy Army in attendance, and few people with British passports will fly from Heathrow Airport to bask in the Cape sunshine for a Test between South Africa and Sri Lanka, yet a few statistical feats might just see the numbers of tickets sold swell from its current number of over 44 000.

The portly figure of Rangana Herath, match-winner of Sri Lanka and one of the world’s finest bowlers, might be one of the main reasons for an increased interest in the Test.

He has captured 54 wickets in 2016, and almost single-handedly propelled Sri Lanka to a whitewash of the number-1 ranked team in the world, Australia, this year.

Dhananjajay de Silva and Kusal Mendis are the other talismanic figures in the Sri Lankan team.

De Silva smashed Steven O’ Keefe for a six to get off the mark in the series against Australia.

A Cricinfo reporter remarked about his style, saying De Silva is batting so effortlessly, it is like he is slung in a hammock at the crease, a cigar between his lips. He averaged 65 against Australia.

Mendis produced a magnificent 176 at Pallekele against Australia which proved to be the turning point of the series. He gave the inexperienced Sri Lanka the self-belief that they could thrash the Baggy Greens. After his 176, Sri Lanka soared; Australia withered.

Ashwell Prince, who once famously struck 150 as an opener against Australia at Newlands for South Africa and treated the ferocious Mitchell Johnson with disdain, described the crowd at Newlands as extremely knowledgeable.

He said the atmosphere at the ground is very difficult to describe, but the support is simply unbelievable. Many fans attend the South African net sessions, and the players see how thousands of fans queue for tickets in the days leading up to the Test.

Prince said: “When Dale Steyn or Vernon Philander produce a significant match-winning spell, the crowd senses the turning point and they get behind their team.

“The thing about international sport which endears the occasion to you, is the motivation you receive by playing in front of a home crowd rooting for you.”

David Brooke, Brand and Sponsorship Manager of the Western Province Cricket Association, said more than 25 000 tickets have already been purchased for the first two days, and he expects that figure to accelerate swiftly, especially once the first Test gets underway in Port Elizabeth on Boxing Day.

South Africa is currently ranked number four in the world and recently dismantled Australia in clinical fashion, winning 2-1 Down Under.

On two occasions, the Australians suffered horrendous collapses. At the WACA in Perth, they lost ten wickets for 86 runs. At the Bellerive Oval, Philander was the destroyer-in-chief. His 5-21 was responsible for Australia being dismissed for a lowly 85 in their first innings.

Philander captured 5-17 in his maiden Test at Newlands in 2011.

In 2013, he nipped out 5-7 as New Zealand crashed to 45 all out.

Don’t expect a similarly lame performance by Sri Lanka. They are made of sterner stuff, and a humdinger could be expected at in the second Sunfoil Test at Newlands from 2nd to 6th January.

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