Cape Town - A master-class by the world’s top-ranked Test batsman, AB de Villiers, has kept South Africa’s nose in front of West Indies after three days of the fascinating final clash at Newlands here.
As it happened: SA v West Indies, Day 3
The Proteas, of course, would have preferred that nose to be the more expected arm or leg, as the decisive fixture in the series moved past its middle day on Sunday.
Instead the oft-maligned underdogs from the Caribbean have been as pesky as that late-night mosquito disturbing your sleep and constantly evading your snatch.
Certainly they are refusing to play dead, even if a famous giant-slaying remains quite some way from possible fruition for them.
Hashim Amla’s side slightly still hold the aces on paper - West Indies remain five runs short of a second-knock credit rating, with two wickets already down - and a draw cannot be completely stripped from the equation either, given the threat of occasional showery activity around the ground on Monday which could eat some chunks from the game.
But the enduring, unseasonally north-westerly wind pattern, with its associated risk of some rain, is just one reason why I believe South Africa remain rather more clear-cut favourites to clinch the series, and by a 2-0 margin.
And if the Proteas do come out on top, another glittering century on Sunday by De Villiers (148, making him the first batsman in nine in the Test to convert a very decent start into a three-figure big ‘un) is bound to be cited as a thick central pillar to the successful charge.
What the more temperate than usual weather is doing is probably delaying the anticipated break-up of the Newlands surface: it was interesting to hear some of the television pundits actually speaking in less dramatic tones on Sunday about the likelihood of cracks widening than they were a day earlier.
The track was considered a dry one before the Test began, but the south-easterly “Cape Doctor” and the heat and genuinely baking sunshine it often brings have been strangely absent for the most part of the match so far, so aggravation of that perceived dryness by the elements may not turn out to be as pronounced as some believe it will.
Things should get increasingly challenging for batsmen, make no mistake - but perhaps not by a lot more than you would expect of any Test pitch subjected to three or four prior days of orthodox wear and tear.
Also to consider is that the ground has a modern reputation anyway for playing fewer tricks at the tail-end of Tests than various others do.
In short, there have been some durable, and sometimes match-winning fourth-innings efforts at Newlands over the last few years, which leads me further to stand alongside any folk less inclined to believe the apocalypse has automatically arrived for the Proteas in the event (perhaps still unlikely anyway?) that they are eventually tasked with hunting down 230 or more.
Bear in mind that even for that to be the requirement, West Indies would have to post around 320-330 themselves in their currently active second dig.
Just based on respective reputations these days, a house-of-cards collapse at the crease at this tense, advanced stage of the contest remains greatly more favoured to come from the tourists’ ranks, don’t you fancy?
But if South Africa do, indeed, find themselves facing a stiff last-knock ask, they might do well to bear in mind that in their previous Test at Newlands, last March, they produced the longest resistance in overs terms of all four innings in the final one against Australia, who had hugely dominated the match to that point.
Set the unlikely target of 511 to win, the Proteas doggedly saw out more than 134 overs to come within a whisker on the final evening of saving the game and series, even if fast-scoring was never a consideration and they only amassed 265 runs in the lengthy vigil.
In February 2013, needing a tricky little 182 to beat Pakistan at the venue, SA ticked the box with four wickets to spare, while another commendable final innings at Newlands came in January 2010, when England (target 466) escaped with a draw, nine wickets down, after lasting out a marathon 141 overs.
Of course having said all this, the strip will probably now be as spiteful as all hell by Tuesday’s scheduled final day, rendering my amateur pitch-monitoring and theorising more crackpot than Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s belief that garlic and beetroot trumps anti-retrovirals in the fight against AIDS.
But anyone willing to bear with me for the moment?
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