Cape Town - Thank goodness, as former national coach Eric
Simons reminded in his SuperSport punditry cap, that cricket is a funny old
It’s about the only thing in South Africa’s favour as they
contemplate a positively gargantuan game-saving task on day five of the third
Test against England at The Oval on Monday.
No, make that two things: the other is the fact that they
have two willing little Davids still at the crease, Dean Elgar and Temba
Bavuma, prepared to keep wrestling contrastingly tall-timber English Goliaths
like James Anderson, Stuart Broad and impressive debutant Toby Roland-Jones.
But there is only so much you can do to prevent the
proverbial dam wall from bursting and, with the cream of the frontline batting
already ripped out in this formidable fourth innings - target a nominal 492 to
win, though dogged draw is naturally the golden desire - salvation truly seems
a million miles away.
In cold statistical terms, it is 588 legal deliveries still
distant, as time is still being made up in this weather-disrupted contest,
meaning that 98 overs will be available to a home team circling like vultures
above an impending carcass.
Considering that South Africa, 117 for four at Sunday’s
close, have already lost 14 wickets in the match at an alarmingly modest gain
of only 292 runs, mustering the necessary fortitude and acumen to earn a
stalemate seems desperately unlikely, although Elgar and Bavuma do tick the box
The last-named player (16 not out off 59 balls) has just
begun to carry on where he left off in his defiant, top-scoring first innings
of 52, in an unbroken stand of 65 with the left-handed Elgar, a rot-stopper
which should at least ensure that a significant enough number of spectators
make the trek to the venue for the final day.
“He comes in and transmits a sense of calm,” said Sky’s Mike
Atherton admiringly of Bavuma, who has got in line and retained his
organisational sense better than any compatriot at the crease in this Test.
Meanwhile Elgar, increasingly earning the admiration of
England’s best commentators for his fighting spirit which eclipses his ungainly
limitations in the technical area, has advanced in some physical discomfort to
an unbeaten 72 off 111 deliveries, an innings marked by a pleasing desire not
to get bogged down despite the broadly stonewalling nature of the team’s task.
That said, even this dominant figure amidst the increasingly
flaky Proteas batting order thus far possibly faces additional challenges on
As England legend Ian Botham pointed out, Elgar is very clearly
nursing a damaged finger, something that has caused him to pull a hand off the
bat repeatedly with certain strokes in a reflex action.
“If there is a problem there, it will be even harder (for
him) tomorrow,” he said as the shadows lengthened on Sunday’s play.
Perhaps the worst news from a South African perspective, in
a match England have governed for lengthy periods, is that the weather forecast
for the fifth day seems kinder than for any previous day in the Test.
No rain at all was anticipated at the time of writing, and
good doses of sunshine are even possible.
The second part of that meteorological scenario is pretty
decent for the batting side, of course, in terms of the diminished threat of
the ball jagging around too excessively, yet it also lessens the prospect of
bad light intervening if embattled South Africa do, somehow, drag things out to
well into the last session.
Do the tourists even deserve some shut-out assistance from
Not really, is the answer, even if untimely weather intrusions
are a time-honoured factor in the game and have benefitted every team on the
planet on various, priceless occasions.
As Simons aptly put it, following England’s
well-better-than-par first-innings score of 353 on a challenging surface: “It’s
been like a boxing match where England delivered a haymaker in the first round
and we’ve been groggy ever since.”
Diehard Proteas fans live in hope, even as it still seems so
enormously likelier that the national team will perish in flames at The Oval...
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing