Cape Town - Test
cricket’s capacity for quirkiness came pleasingly to the fore at an otherwise
gloomy St George’s Park on Saturday.
Day three of
the third encounter between South Africa and England saw the tourists push
their way determinedly closer to grabbing the lead for the first time in the
four-Test series … but the Proteas simultaneously show sufficient mettle to
indicate that saving the match isn’t absolutely beyond them.
developments came by the fistful, ahead of the host nation ending the curtailed
combat on 208 for six in their first innings, and needing a further 92 runs on
Sunday with little credible batting left to stave off - perhaps very
importantly? - the likelihood of Joe Root being in a position to enforce a
surprise was the extent to which rain disrupted play, when weather forecasts
had initially suggested something closer to mere dribs and drabs of the wet
stuff: eventually only 64 overs were possible, not the worst state of affairs
for the already so clearly backs-to-the-wall South Africans.
was the instance of Dom Bess, England’s still-rookie and relatively untrumpeted
off-spinner, becoming the first English slow bowler since Derek “Deadly” Underwood
in an Ashes Test of 1975 at Adelaide to bag all of the first five wickets of an
now 74, would later become a member of the controversial first English rebel
tour squad in South Africa in 1981/82.
event you would not have staked too much dosh on before Saturday’s play was the
Proteas’ night-watchman Anrich Nortje ending it as (albeit only just) the home
batsman to have faced the most deliveries in the innings at this point.
in-form Quinton de Kock was sailing along nicely at stumps on his unbeaten 63
off 134 balls, Nortje resisted all and sundry in the England attack for 136 of
them and a just as commendable more than three hours.
can be a cruel one, too, as the scorebook will forever read that the doggedly
determined fast bowler ended with a seemingly humdrum 18 runs; for his sheer
tenacity and eye-openingly organised defence, it felt more like a 60 or 70 in
value and showed up a few more specialist SA batsmen.
“He is one
of those guys who just looks thoroughly engaged as a Test cricketer, whether it
is with bat or ball,” said former national captain Shaun Pollock in SuperSport
commentary tribute to his longevity at the crease before Ben Stokes - who else? - finally induced a nick behind.
Stokes, the indomitable all-rounder simply added to the day’s wackiness by
showing the more “human” side to his superhuman label with a three-spillage
tally at slip.
enviable flycatcher in the position, the beneficiary of his gremlins was De
Kock each time.
many a day before you see Ben Stokes again drop three and not pick up a single
one (catch),” observed another television pundit, Mike Atherton, sagely.
one more development you don’t witness every day in Test matches: Root
exercising his right to a new ball three deliveries from the scheduled close,
and an off-spinner (Bess) rather than speed merchant operating with it.
Sunday will show a return to more orthodox occurrences, and just one of those
would be England - arguably still 70/30 favourites to achieve it, wouldn’t you
think? - facilitating the follow-on option.
Proteas are to skirt it, much will depend on how much further the budding,
already half-century alliance for the seventh wicket between De Kock and Vernon
Philander can last.
There are only
three bowlers - Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada and Dane Paterson - yet to take
guard, and if Philander is first to go, and relatively quickly, on Sunday, then
you might witness De Kock resort to more trademark, cavalier-striking methods
to try to reach the required 300 for the Proteas.
We may well
see a substantially stronger case of “game on” in the event the home side do
manage to take follow-on off the table.
It would eat
up a fair chunk of useful time, from their perspective, with England required
to take to the crease again and attempt to push things along at a rate of knots
on the sluggish pitch ... plus the prospect that a bit of weather may yet, it
appears, have a further say on the contest.
are tottering, but they haven’t been pronounced dead.
people like Nortje around.
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