Will Oz show daredevil side?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Australia, desperate to level the series on day five of the final Test at the Wanderers, will have to significantly adjust their battle-plan if the weather clears and at least some play is possible on Monday.
Morning rain and general gloom quite obviously posed a threat – most unfortunately considering the delicate balance of the contest -- to the prospect of any play at all as both teams sat around nervously in their dressing rooms for any signs of a delayed start.
Some weather forecasts suggested a better chance of some brightening on the Highveld from roughly lunchtime meaning that, if so, a curtailed day five would suddenly turn the Aussie chase for a remaining 168 runs with seven wickets in hand into a “limited-overs” affair, with all the heightened drama that would bring.
Under those circumstances, we would see an interesting test of captain Michael Clarke’s willingness to show a gambler’s streak: would he be prepared to spiritedly throw willow at leather at the risk of a 0-1 series deficit turning into a 0-2 clean sweep for the Proteas?
There are traditionally always two schools of thought in Test cricket in situations like this one: the conservative one that says “you don’t just throw away a Test match” and another which protests: “What does it matter if you lose 1-0 or 2-0? Just go for it.”
The latter philosophy is one that was always embraced in the game by someone like Eddie Barlow, the legendary South African all-rounder who firmly believed in fortune favouring the brave, and it is hard to see Clarke not taking that approach as well if he gets the opportunity.
A full day’s play at the Bullring, now definitely not possible, would have allowed the Aussies to go about their business pretty methodically, with risk-taking in stroke-play not too much of an issue.
Instead it is clear that, always keeping an eye on the weather even if there are some windows of playing opportunity, they will have to show greater urgency in the run-scoring task in conditions likely to be even more bowler-friendly now than Sunday’s.
South African captain Graeme Smith, meanwhile, under less pressure to force a victory as no play at all would give the Proteas their first post-isolation home series win over these foes, was likely to have the luxury of getting his bowlers to slow down their over-rates and post ultra-defensive fields if the Australians showed signs of chipping away swiftly at their requirement.
Another thing to consider, however, is that the Proteas would stay on track to regain No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings if they can knock over the remaining Aussie batsmen for a 2-0 outcome – to achieve this by the end of the home Test-match summer, they need that result against the Australians and then a 3-0 outcome against next tourists Sri Lanka.
In local conditions, the latter score-line is hardly an unrealistic possibility as the Lankans have a poor record on bouncier South African tracks than their own.
So there are some fascinating sub-plots if a few hours’ play are possible at the Wanderers.
But for the moment everything is firmly in the hands of the weather gods anyway ...