Sri Lanka vs South Africa review: A subcontinental delight
Look beyond the sparse spectators at the stadium which echo the undertones of a ghost town in comparison to a day of play at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the patchy outfield that gives the impression of a frenetic call history to sodding firms as opposed to the lush turf at Newlands, ignore these for once and look how exciting Test cricket in the subcontinent can be.
In the cricketing fraternity, there always has been a bias against the brand of Test cricket played in this part of the world, but once you break the shackles of prejudices, it makes for the best advertisement for the preservation of a dying format.
Broadcasters may frown upon the pitches for yielding action often lasting no more beyond three days, but those three days of cricket is sufficient to give that ECG monitor a good workout. So, strap onto your seats as you venture into the world of subcontinental red-ball cricket, where world beaters start their campaigns with ambition and before you know it they are trying to save face against a considerably lower ranked side, where it takes more than just skill and talent to be the last man standing at the close of play.
South Africa ventured into Sri Lanka on the back of a brutal takedown of a well-balanced Australia, well and truly confident of meting out similar ruthlessness to a side that just got beaten in a Test match by West Indies. Two and half days of play later, Dean Elgar looked on from the balcony as Kagiso Rabada let an arm ball by Dilruwan Perera disrupt the entropy of his stumps and the scoreboard alike. At 8/58, Elgar couldn't do much other than look morosely as the collapse triggered an overwhelming cacophony of dominoes metaphors.
The same Elgar, who had earlier prided upon his tendency to "irritate" the opposition with his dogged batting, was forced into such a haze of thoughtlessness by the scoreboard pressure, chirping close-in fielders, the sharply spinning and bouncing cherry, that he ran down the wicket against the off-spinner on his twelfth ball itself and did not even bother to look back at the outcome after having to endure the sense of the margin by which the ball had beaten his bat to allow Niroshan Dickwella to only add to the Proteas' plight.
Eight overs and four wickets late, Aiden Markram, who is a sight of utter domination at Centurion, who has cashed in on his gifted instincts to make a name for himself among young batsmen around the world, stares scarily into the eyes of his downfall.
This is not an aberration from South Africa being ascendant.
This is not an aberration from Sri Lanka being Sri Lanka.
This is cricket in the subcontinent, here adaptability trumps years of practising the immaculate forward defence in the line of the ball over the course of twenty odd seasons, grit prevails over flamboyance and sheer mental resistance shows you success rather than an embarrassing effort at trying to hit your way out of a first innings 150 run trail with eight wickets down.
Howsoever the gulf might seem between home and away sides in subcontinent Tests, there is always a way out, and it has been shown before. In the opening Test match of the last Border-Gavaskar series, Steve Smith showed resilience that was not only exemplary but earned him a place in history. On a dodgy track facing the hyperbolic loop and tweak of Ravi Ashwin and the suffocating consistency of Ravindra Jadeja, Smith closed his stance, restricted his compulsive horizontal movement on the crease, and with that he had taken the outside edge out of the equation and braved the conditions to score a matchwinning 109.
South Africa might have been bundled out for their lowest ever score, but they must not let it break them like their efforts in the series against India in 2015. This is their opportunity to relish the challenge this part of the world has to offer, this is their moment to adapt and to come out on top against a side that looks formidable in their backyard.
The likes of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Dale Steyn are possibly touring here for the last time and it is now up to them to craft a legacy for themselves and for their country, by rising to the challenge instead of buckling down. This is Kagiso Rabada's chance to prove himself, in all senses the best bowler in the world, this is Elgar's chance to rise when the odds are stacked against him and have his resolve back him in the toughest spot of his career.
A come from behind win for South Africa in this series can only do a huge favour to the growth of cricket, not just by inspiring a whole new generation of kids growing in the Rainbow Nation to make them believe in times of adversity, be it in sport or in life, but will also set an example for future countries touring the subcontinent to treat the cricket here as an entirely different front of skill sets.
Sri Lanka's remarkable all-round performance in this first Test match has really once again shown the spectacles of the long form cricket in the subcontinent.
So, defy the textbooks, go uncoventional, and prevail!