CAPE TOWN. – If ever there was an international arena that had the impact of changing a nervous, slightly intimidated Clark Kent into Superman, it has to be the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium.
Differently stated, South Africa and South Africans have produced some of the most extraordinary feats against all odds at the Bullring when staring down the barrel.
Expect nothing different when South Africa and Sri Lanka clash in the final test of the 2016/2017 series starting on the 12th January.
You don’t need to cast back your mind to far down memory lane to think of stupendous examples of South Africans who achieved audacious feats at this field of dreams.
Think AB de Villiers. In 2015, South Africa faced the West Indies in a One Day International. De Villiers struck 100 off 31 balls, and 149 off 44 deliveries to smash South Africa to an extraordinary 439 for two at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium.
Or, maybe Herschelle Gibbs would present a convincing argument of the impact of the Bullring on a man in a phone booth. Gibbs and the South African team, when faced with the daunting task of eclipsing Australia’s 434 for four, achieved 438 for nine with one ball to spare to clinch the One Day International series against Australia in March 2006.
It was a match to savour. Described by the iconic former England captain Tony Greig as the greatest ODI ever played, Gibbs turned adversity into a triumph with his 175 off 111 balls with 21 fours and seven sixes.
More recently, South Africa’s newest bowling sensation, Kagiso Rabada captured 14-105, the best first-class figures ever produced in a four-day franchise match. The bizhub Highveld Lions decimated the Hollywoodbets Dolphins and the Lions romped to the Sunfoil Series title.
There are other examples of feats so extraordinary that even a melodramatic Hollywood producer would not have been able to write the script.
Allan Donald had a score to settle with Mike Atherton after the England captain had wrongly been given a lifeline by the erring umpire at Trent Bridge in 1998. In the subsequent dog-fight between a fuming White Lightning and Atherton, the dogged England skipper survived and England subsequently won the test series 2-1.
In the summer of 1999, Donald was at his rampant best at the Wanderers and England was in dire straits on 4 for two in their innings. White Lightning turned up the heat and finished with an electrifying 11-127 in this extraordinary match.
There were other moments that spring to mind. In December 1966, Australia was in full control after dismissing South Africa for a lowly 199 and moving to 99 without loss at the close.
Eddie Barlow changed the complexion of the match with three quick wickets to get rid of Keith Stackpole, Bob Cowper and Ian Redpath.
In the second innings, a combative 90 by the genius that was Graeme Pollock, a sensational 182 by Denis Lindsay and 6-53 in a master class of swing bowling by Trevor Goddard propelled South Africa to a win by 223 runs.
“Over the years, the Wanderers has been our quickest and bounciest wicket. There is little turn, and with the altitude and you as batsman who can play through the line, the ball travels. It is the best one-day wicket in South Africa,” said Gibbs.
“Then there is a fast outfield. Because of the way the Wanderers was built, the fans are almost on top of you and you can almost hear every chirp.
“When it is packed to capacity and you are in full cry, it is almost as if 50 000 people are supporting you. It is a wonderful ground,” added Gibbs, who struck the most one-day runs ever at the Wanderers (719 at an average of 44.93).
A Wanderers-test is unmissable, not simply because of the nature of the pitch as one of the fastest in the world and the former exploits by Makhaya Ntini (the most test wickets at the ground with 53 scalps), Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn (48 wickets), or the runs scored by Jacques Kallis (1148, the most ever in white uniform) or Hashim Amla (742 runs at an average of 49.46 with two centuries).
It is also because of the extraordinary feats that South Africa have produced when the odds were against them, or how that special atmosphere that has transformed everyday feats into extraordinary events.
Chris Morris had England in disarray in the fourth One Day International in 2015/2016 when his 62 off 38 balls gave the Proteas a one-wicket cushion at the Bullring.
Donald, one of South Africa’s legends, said they don’t call it the Bullring for nothing: “When it is packed, there are few stadiums that are so intimidating to the opposition as the Wanderers. In the 1988/99 match against England, I got a dodgy leg-before-wicket (Mark Butcher was the unfortunate victim) in my favour and walked off to the fine-leg boundary and tried to ignite the crowd
“Then they got going. The crowd of 22 000 felt like 60 000. The fans at the Wanderers are different. They are not docile. Instead, they are vocal and once they get going, nobody and nothing can stop them,” Donald added.
“When the crowd get a sniff, it is as if 60 000 are present, and not 30 000. They are right on top of you,” said Mark Boucher, who established world records at the Wanderers. He shared in a 195 run partnership with Pat Symcox for the ninth wicket, a global record, in only his second test, in 1998.
Boucher was also unbeaten on 50 in that record chase in March 2006 when South Africa amassed 434. “When the crowd sense you are not playing well, they can get loud and abusive, but when the tide is turning, they can sing and chant and it is uplifting to the players. It is quite unbelievable,” said Boucher.