Situation ideally set for Biff?
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - So there the Proteas were ... humiliatingly set to follow on if, indeed, Australia would have opted to enforce that option.
Scorecard after Day 2
Video Highlights: Day 2
I wonder just how important it will turn out to be in the aftermath of a tumultuous cricket match that Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir eked out a last-wicket partnership of 13 for South Africa in their first innings to remove the luxury of that choice for the tourists on day two of the first Test at Newlands here?
There is every chance, I believe, that Michael Clarke would have asked the South Africans to take strike again, considering that they’d been bundled out in fewer than 25 overs and his bowlers were thus anything but out on their feet - and no doubt quite prepared to have a keen stab at the jugular.
Instead the Proteas were able to breathe again, rapidly take stock of their plight and then come out counter-punching.
Not in their wildest dreams would they have suspected that they’d flatten the Aussies for 47 in 18 overs of unrelenting chaos, at one stage threatening to rout them for the lowest Test total by any country since this great format began.
The “honour” still belongs to New Zealand, who blinked and found themselves all out for 26 in a 1955 Test against England at Auckland, although all of us at Newlands on Thursday seemed destined for a champagne “I was there” moment as the Aussie's slid to 21 for nine - yes, chew on that once more - at one stage.
I’m not sure whether you can quite brand it a face-saving occurrence, but the total somehow more than doubled in a last-wicket smack-about of 26 between Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon ... albeit still leaving this as a completed Test innings minus a solitary extra, just by way of further quirk.
But let’s cut through the nonsense and tumult now, shall we?
The day ended with the Proteas having made a riotously successful, under the circumstances, start to their victory pursuit of 236: they’d reached 81 for one in 17 overs, which only seemed to bear out the suspicion that the earlier lunacy was primarily man-made rather than attributable to serpents hissing unrelentingly in the track.
Whether South Africa “only” need a further 155 with nine wickets and three days remaining or require “as many as” 155 depends on your point of view after the ride through the tumble-drier.
Personally, I am beginning to sway toward the former school of thought ... and especially because South Africa’s veteran captain Graeme Smith is still at the crease and almost certainly relishing, as he always does, the chance to prevail against long odds in a fourth-innings scrap.
In the context of the topsy-turvy fixture, his respective personal scores of 37 and 36 not out well-nigh suggest a man in sublime form, but it is his appetite for “situation” - a la Edgbaston 2008 and a certain, series-clinching 154 not out - that is perhaps more relevant as we keenly await day three of this humdinger of strange sorts.
If “Biff” is still batting by lunchtime on Friday, you would think the Proteas are closing in quite nicely on their requirement.
Mind you, there is also a case for suggesting he could be standing there with the last man at the other end by then, such has been the schizophrenic state of affairs.
A mini-tragedy on dramatic days like Thursday’s is that it is possible to skim over certain individual achievements of great merit ... like debutant Vernon Philander’s feat for South Africa of securing a second-innings analysis of five for 15 and match figures of eight for 78.
He was urgent, penetrative and supremely motivated on day two, only building on a credible first day’s play as well, and has indisputably done as much he could to set up his country’s charge to what would be a superlative victory.
But carts must not be put before horses, must they?
Mike Hussey dropping Hashim Amla off the last ball of the day was only another example of this particular match plot being hazardously hard to read.
Tell you one thing for sure: there’s a great case for mischievously bunking work or school on Friday and getting down to good old Newlands or vegging out in front of the telly.
Seconds out ...