THERE have been very few days like this in Test cricket. Newlands echoed to the clatter of seven South African wickets before lunch and one Englishman after the break. And this, the experts assured us this morning, is a good batting track.
Day two of the third Test began with the last four South Africans dismissed for 12 runs in 17 balls. Three further South African-born Englishmen, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, fell as the tourists attempted to make headway on a supposedly friendly 22-yard-strip which has turned fiendish overnight (but the fans love it, see lunchtime picture).
Incredible. If all Tests went the way of this morning’s first four overs (five wickets, 23 balls, 14 runs), we’d see all four innings completed by lunch-time on day one with just over 100 runs on the board.
As it is, a semblance of normality has returned to this wonderful ground, nestled beneath the cliffs of Table Mountain. Alastair Cook’s on 31 and Ian Bell has just arrived at the crease. England are 74-4, still 217 behind, after losing Johannesburg-born opener Andrew Strauss for two, Cape Town-born fiddler Jonathan Trott for 20 and Pietermaritzburg-born waster Kevin Pietersen, brilliantly caught and bowled by Dale Steyn for a duck.
Paul Collingwood, batting with the left index finger he dislocated during the triumphant second Test in Durban, became the first English-born player to fall today, plumb lbw to Morne Morkel for 19 off 44 balls just after lunch.
England captain Strauss became the fifth victim of the day off the final ball of the first over of England’s innings, bowled by the excellent Morkel. It was a dreadful, flat-footed attempt at a drive which deviated firmly into the gloves of Mark Boucher.
But the real fireworks had already come and gone with the real South Africans.
Jacques Kallis? Gone to his first ball of the day on his overnight 108. Dale Steyn? He shuffled off cricket's mortal coil at the start of the next over. Morne Morkel lasted three balls, Friedel De Wet four. South Africa were all out for 291, 17 balls after resuming with their overnight 279-6. Incredible stuff.
South Africans were talking about their side getting to 350 with chanceless centurion Kallis and promoted paceman Steyn looking solid for 17 overs and 64 runs last night.
But this morning they were confounded on a day which, surprisingly, dawned bright and clear, without the usual 'table-cloth' of cloud rolling over Table Mountain.
After Steyn's opening leg bye off Graham Onions' first ball of the day, Kallis, the 34-year-old man mountain of South African batting who averages nearly 70 at his old home ground, may have been hoping to move close to a double century here.
But he received an unplayable snorter from the Durham seamer, got the edge to one that nipped away off a length, and Matt Prior took the catch amid much jubilation - 280-7. Big, big wicket.
Then came Jimmy Anderson's first ball of the morning from the other end. Kerpow! Steyn was gone, brilliantly caught in the slips by Jonathan Trott, playing on his old home ground.
The eighth ball of the day saw the demise of Morne Morkel, who was supposed to be able to bat a bit, again sensationally caught, this time at second slip by Graeme Swann, who dropped South African captain Graeme Smith so badly yesterday.
And we only had a wasteful Onions over to wait before last man Friedel De Wet went lbw to complete Anderson's five-wicket haul - even a last-gasp review couldn't save him.
Anderson ended with 5-63 after a fairy-tale morning which offered a return of seven balls, three wickets for one run. It doesn’t get much better than that.