At Cape Town, January 26, 27, 28, 2007. South Africa won by five wickets. Toss: South Africa.
When the covers were peeled away to unveil a gnu of a pitch - an oddly amalgamated animal that was grassy at both ends and barren in the middle - even the most casual observers knew they would witness no ordinary match.
When 32 wickets fell during the first two days, Bob Woolmer made a pithy comment. "It's either extremely bad batting, wonderful bowling or something slightly wrong with the pitch," he said. "The odd ball is unplayable, and then you get out trying to score runs off a ball that is pretty mediocre. You don't often get these games. Specifically, in Test cricket you shouldn't get these games, because you should be more disciplined in the way you bat."
Indeed, the batting on both sides was undeniably awful. The bowling was competent, but not much more. The pitch was not trusted by all who set eyes on it, and did itself no favours by offering erratic bounce from the outset; the outfield wasn't much better. In fact, had it been a golf course, much of it would have been declared ground under repair.
"It's a great shame to see one of the most beautiful grounds in the world in such a poor condition," Woolmer, who knew Newlands better than most, said afterwards. It was no less a shame that Pakistan's chances of becoming the first Asian team to win a Test series in South Africa were dealt a blow some viewed as underhand. The South Africans ended Pakistan's first innings before tea on the first day, harrying them out for a miserable 157, all ten caught, with Ntini and Kallis sharing eight wickets. Mohammad Yousuf scored a breathtaking 83 off 90 balls that bristled with ten fours and a six, an innings that explained in crystal clear terms why he had been the leading Test run-scorer of 2006.
South Africa squeezed out a lead of 26 before they were dismissed next morning: Smith took Yousuf's lead and bludgeoned an aggressive half-century, while Boucher's unbeaten 40 was forged from similarly spunky stuff.
By lunch on the second day, Pakistan had already faced eight overs of their second innings, and - of course - lost a wicket. After lunch, Younis Khan was caught behind off the seventh ball he faced, from Ntini, and there were no more heroics from Yousuf. Cameos from Yasir Hameed and Inzamam-ul-Haq helped establish a lead, and the biggest stand of the innings was 55 for the eighth wicket by Mohammad Sami and Shahid Nazir, but no one was able to survive long enough to make a real difference against an attack gaining in confidence and aggression as each wicket fell. The second day closed with South Africa on 36 for two, in search of 161 for victory. The bare, bold facts of that statement need no embellishment to bring home the ridiculousness of the situation.
They slipped to 39 for four before the sun had cleared the mist off Table Mountain on the third day. But Kallis, as ever, brought a granite presence to the crease and drew the sting from what remained of the contest in a suitably grim half-century. Prince matched him for dourness, and together they eked out 117 for the fifth wicket. The partnership ended two overs before the match itself was culled, when Nazir bowled Kallis; Prince stayed to get the job done with de Villiers.
And so, in the golden glow of a perfect summer's afternoon in one of the most gracious settings cricket has to offer, a Test match which should have brimmed with two more days of entertainment was snuffed out with indecent haste. A crowd of 5,695 filed out wondering what to do with the rest of their day. Chances are they will not hurry back to the cricket.
Man of the Match: J. H. Kallis. Attendance: 22,393.
Man of the Series: J. H. Kallis.
Close of play: First day, South Africa