Cape Town – The wisest of Test cricket
followers will be fully aware that a bad series on the Subcontinent often has
little bearing on fortunes when a team returns to its own, often vastly
We need increasingly to hope that holds
true in the case of the currently wilting - and almost violently so - Proteas.
That is because four-Test hostilities with
England begin in only 22 days’ time, and South Africa staring down the barrel
of a likely 0-3 humiliation - they were also playing ominous second fiddle in
the rain-plagued second-Test stalemate - in India.
Looking tired, clueless and bedraggled,
Hashim Amla’s side, with the captain in the midst of a deepening batting rot
himself, were bombed out for a miserly 121 in their first innings of the final
encounter in Delhi on Friday.
It was a wretched reply to India’s 334,
easily the highest total of the hitherto low-scoring series, and perhaps this
Test may only drag beyond three days on the grounds that the hosts have opted
not to enforce the follow-on, so will be looking to pile on further misery at
the crease before making the world’s wobbling top-ranked side bat last in
pursuit of a formidable target.
After much heated debate about the merits
or demerits of tracks presented earlier in the series, this one at the Feroz
Shah Kotla has provided a pretty fair contest between bat and ball so far - and
still the Proteas have not been able or maybe even willing in certain cases to
cut the mustard.
Of great concern, again only the
effervescent AB de Villiers managed to look comfortable as he compiled a smooth
42 in exactly two hours before holing out on the fence as partners began to
dwindle for him and he tried to push the team into safer territory beyond any
There was a period of pluckiness from
makeshift opening batsman Temba Bavuma, who lasted 91 minutes and 55 deliveries
for 22, but then succumbed when seemingly well set - a problem that has
afflicted many a South African stroke-player during this forgettable few weeks.
The one shaft of light, even taking into
account that India got royally off the hook in their first dig from once being
139 for six, was the enduring determination and guile on Friday of seamer Kyle
Abbott, who finished with exemplary figures of 5/40 from one ball short of 25
With an economy rate of 1.61, it told you
that at least one person had some grasp of the concept of pressure-building
while not sacrificing penetration.
Abbott now has 18 scalps at 17.55 midway
through only his fifth Test, and firmly stuck a hand up for inclusion at his
familiar Kingsmead, where the first clash with England is scheduled from Boxing
Speaking of that fast-looming fixture,
former national captain Kepler Wessels, in the SuperSport studio, was grimly
accurate when he said there were now “some issues, some uncertainties” when it
came to SA selection for it.
“Some of our batsmen are in dire straits
with the England series only a couple of (weeks away).”
He would have been referring to several in
the present, vulnerable top seven including Dean Elgar, Amla, Faf du Plessis,
JP Duminy and Dane Vilas, all of whose five-day averages are taking a battering
Former Proteas coach Eric Simons,
meanwhile, served a reminder that most of the touring players probably cannot
wait for the Indian trip to end.
“The batsmen don’t have a reference point
to trust in, with every innings we play at the moment (preceded by) an equally
bad one ... so it has become a deer-in-the-headlights situation.
“It can be a lonely place. As a coach I
have seen many batsmen in dark places, emptiness in their eyes.”
You do wonder when a more familiar fullness
will return to the eyeballs for some in the Proteas’ ranks ... there is little
time for rest or deep contemplation.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing