Cape Town – Don’t go anywhere, for this is South Africa -- modern
kings of the Houdini feat -- under the cosh and that can mean excitement beyond
GALLERY: Biff in pictures
Can ... and now “will” is just that bit likelier after the
oddly-timed but earth-shattering late-night announcement on Monday that this is
captain Graeme Smith’s final Test appearance for his country.
The Proteas have been a two-tone outfit in the series against
Australia – sometimes classy, sometimes cowed – and there must be a good chance
they will swiftly erase their Newlands lethargy and fight for all they are worth
to save the series, powered by a grim desire not to make their leader’s
swansong an unpalatable one.
Yet with two days to play in the decisive third contest, the
noose only seems to be tightening around the Proteas’ collective necks: just how
many more fight-back miracles can this band of men work, after all?
Smith’s team, with the veteran captain himself continuing
his miserable series form, were not nearly obdurate enough in their first
innings on Monday and then, in what should have been a spirited burst at the
Aussie top order in the lengthening shadows, fired only a peashooter with Morne
Morkel the glaringly most wasteful man behind the trigger.
Trailing already by 207 runs on the first knock, cocksure
series nemesis David Warner rubbed salt into wounds by romping to an unbeaten
25 off 17 balls to extend the Aussie lead to 234 with all 10 wickets intact
before the merciful sanctuary of stumps for South Africa.
The Baggy Greens seem to hold all the aces, and unless there
is a spectacular clatter of wickets on Tuesday morning – there were at least
signs Dale Steyn might bowl again -- Michael Clarke could have the luxury of
declaring around halfway through the day’s play and probably some 420 to 450
runs to the good.
If Warner continues on his bruising way, threatening a
second advance to three figures in the match, the bell may even ring earlier.
But South Africa
having to bat out around 140 overs to save the series threatens to be their
minimum requirement: and if they could only manage 82.5 of them with conditions
pretty certainly less challenging in their first turn at the crease, what price
a greatly lengthier vigil the next time?
Barring a dramatic slump by the tourists, stonewalling for a
draw seems the only option now for the Proteas, as statistics at the
picturesque ground paint a largely bleak picture if they somehow still aspire
For starters, the highest fourth-innings total in a Newlands
win is 334 for six, so the Proteas have to rip out the Aussies for the addition
of only some 100 runs or fewer if they are to go after a target within that
That victory was achieved by the very same Australia in
2001/02, earning them early achievement of the series triumph in the second
Test of a three-match series.
On that occasion, and with South Africa understandably
favoured for an equalising win at the outset of the chase, Ricky Ponting’s 100
not out and 96 from Matthew Hayden made the crucial difference.
At least to their credit, South Africa had amassed 473 in
their own second innings then after trailing by plenty on the first, and
occupied the crease for all of 162 overs in doing so – reminding that the
Newlands pitch is not necessarily a beast to bat on in the second half of a
The top fourth-innings total of any kind at the ground is
354 for five, achieved by West Indies in 2004 when the draw they earned in the
third Test staved off a whitewash in the four-Test series which they
They had been set a target of 441, and Dwayne Smith’s
unbeaten 105 and 86 from the fading genius Brian Lara helped them pull of a
The Windies lasted exactly 100 overs in achieving that
outcome, so there is every chance the Proteas in the current Test will have to
eclipse that tally by quite some distance to get off the hook against the
You have little in sport if you don’t possess belief, and we
know Smith’s outfit are seldom wanting in that department, even when they are
stuck in a corner.
It is something to hold onto, in what otherwise seems a
At least the magnificent Newlands Test public haven’t given
up all hope, judging by the healthy day three attendance.
Plenty of them will be back for the game’s run-in, you would
think, despite South Africa’s hazardous situation ... and not at all
discounting the chance of a fitting, typical rearguard action by a certain GC
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