THERE have been very few mornings like this in Test cricket. Newlands echoed to the clatter of seven South African wickets before lunch. And this, former England captain Nasser Hussain assured us this morning, is a good batting track.
Day two of the third Test began with five victims in just 23 balls for 14 runs. Two further South African-born Englishmen, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, fell as the tourists attempted to make headway on a supposedly friendly 22-yard-strip which has turned nasty overnight.
Incredible. If all Tests went the way of this morning’s first four overs, we’d see all four innings completed by lunch-time on day one with about 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 27 and Paul Collingwood has got 14. England are 64-3 at lunch, still 227 behind, after losing Johannesburg-born opener Andrew Strauss for two, Cape Town-born fiddler Jonathan Trott for 20 and Pietermaritzburg-born Kevin Pietersen for a duck.
England captain Strauss became the fifth victim of the day off the final ball of the first over of England’s innings, bowled by Morne Morkel. It was a dreadful, flat-footed attempt at a drive which plopped 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 balls. 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.