Cape Town - If recent statistics at
Adelaide Oval for the fourth innings of a Test match are used as a yardstick,
South Africa probably require appreciably more runs in their second innings to
make a real fight of the third Test against Australia at its business end.
The Proteas ended day three a precarious 70
runs in credit, with only four wickets remaining and every ounce of their
renowned fighting spirit necessary if they are still to realise dreams of a
novel 3-0 sweep in the series.
Much is likely to depend on the prosperity
or otherwise of the seventh-wicket alliance between opening batsman Stephen
Cook, who has looked largely watertight thus far for his vigilant, even-paced
and unbeaten 81, and attack-minded wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, not yet off
the mark but in sprightly form with the blade.
Once those two have parted, there are only
the tenacious qualities of lower-order all-rounder Vernon Philander and the
more genuine tailenders Kagiso Rabada and Tabraiz Shamsi to follow, so it was
little wonder that former Test batsman and national selector Ashwell Prince
said in his SuperSport pundit capacity after the close that “the next two
wickets will be crucial for whether South Africa have something to bowl at”.
Considering how frequently in modern times
the Baggy Greens’ batting line-up has succumbed to a “skittles syndrome” to the
Proteas - in either country - it may be tempting for SA supporters to
mischievously believe the Aussies already face the proverbial “tricky little
target” given their psychological frailties.
In reality, of course, it is far likelier
that South Africa do somehow need to eke out a minimum of another 100 or 120
runs to be able to set the host nation something considerably close to 200 and
the bowlers then throw the kitchen sink at them.
Kepler Wessels believes “180 (as a target)
gives South Africa a chance” and that “220 to 250 would be quite tough to get”.
So hope springs eternal for Faf du
Plessis’s charges, on a surface that is still a pretty good, true enough one
offering a bit to both batsman and bowler.
The bad news from a Proteas point of view,
statistically, is that recent Tests at the venue – admittedly mostly more
orthodox, daytime ones – suggest the fourth knock is seldom played out on a
genuinely deteriorating “minefield”.
Final-innings scores have, generally, been
reasonably high over the course of the last handful of Test matches there.
It is true that the last Test at Adelaide
Oval, also a day/night affair last season, saw Australia make heavy weather of
chasing down a target of only 187 against New Zealand; they eventually got home
for the loss of seven wickets.
But by all accounts that was a sportier
surface than the one currently being used, and the notably low-scoring game was
wrapped up in three days.
Before that, lengthier innings have tended
to be a hallmark of the teams batting last.
In December 2014, India registered a brave
315 all out chasing a target of 364, a year earlier England got to 312 all out
chasing a mammoth 531, and in November 2012, of course, the very Proteas
survived all of 148 overs (Du Plessis 110 not out in 466 obstinate minutes) for
248 for eight and the last draw at the ground.
This match seems highly unlikely to end in
stalemate with two full days to go and clear skies predicted, and the Proteas
aren’t quite dead yet.
But they are staring down a barrel.
Can they flash out a hand and turn the gun
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing