TELFORD VICE, St George’s Park
STIAAN van Zyl bowling in flip flops gave it away. So did Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel engrossing themselves in a left-foot-only kickabout. Temba Bavuma batted left-handed against Rabada, who kneeled as he bowled. Faf du Plessis bowled a reasonable facsimile of off-spin to Hashim Amla, who returned the favour with offerings that would have fallen way foul of the chucking police.
“You always want to show the bowlers what they should be doing,” Amla joked.
Whatever SA and West Indies were keen on doing at St George’s Park on Tuesday, preparing to play proper cricket did not seem to be a priority. And it did not have to be, what with the last day of the second test abandoned in its entirety because of the rain that had soaked the outfield overnight.
Play was due to start at 10am. Instead, the umpires held a pitch inspection at that time – as they did at 11am, 12pm and 1pm. Each time Billy Bowden, Paul Reiffel and Shaun George appeared as the sultans of squelch, they first visited a veritable swamp along the western boundary near the Grandstand.
Evidence that the day’s play was destined to be declared dead in the water was had as early as the 11am inspection. Before the umpires arrived at the wet spot that time, it had swarmed with groundstaff armed with squeegees and sawdust. Carter himself wielded a leaf-blower in anger.
However, immediately after the officials had done their thing, all tools were downed and Carter’s crew went and sat on their backsides near the table and stayed put. If the umpires had given them hope, they would have kept working.
The band, silent all day, left their instruments on the stand to gleam brassily in the gloom cast by the leaden sky. But, as the sultans approached the swamp at 1pm, a trumpet was picked up and the soft, sorry squawk of a sad solo issued forth.
It proved to be a riff on the Last Post: moments later Hashim Amla crossed dressingroom’s great divide to shake hands with Denesh Ramdin. Match drawn. The series, then, will be alive when it resumes at Newlands on Friday.
Not that Amla was ready to agree that the Windies’ had a better time at St George’s Park than at Centurion, where SA blew them away by an innings and 220 runs in just seven sessions of play.
“They had one partnership (in Port Elizabeth) and that reflected the feeling that they had a good game,” Amla said. “But for us to take seven wickets in 35 overs means we had a pretty good game as well.”
That stand cracked off the bats of Kraigg Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels, who scored 106 and 101 and shared 176 – a West Indies record for the third wicket in tests against SA. Those seven wickets fell on Monday, five of them for 15 runs in 29 balls.
Besides, Amla said, SA had also come to the party in the shape of “Dean scoring a hundred, Faf getting some runs, and Morne bowling the way he did”.
Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis made 121 and 103, and Morkel bowled with striking aggression to take 4/69 on Monday.
Unsurprisingly, West Indies coach Stuart Williams did not share Amla’s narrative of the match.
“We had two centuries against the No. 1 attack in the world; in the first game we didn’t even have a half-century,” Williams said. “Our bowling was also more consistent.”
All of which is true. But, with at least 265 overs lost to rain – almost three days’ play – there can be no deciding which team had the better game.
That said, SA would have tried to salvage the contest had West Indies been able to resume on 275/9, still 142 runs behind the home side’s declaration of 417/8.
“We were hoping to bowl them out early, then look to set a target with 55 or 60 overs to go,” Amla said.
So, the series will come down to, weather permitting, five days in the shadow of Table Mountain. Were the West Indians ready to step up to the plate?
“Our youngest player is Kraigg Brathwaite (22), and you had a look at what he can do,” Williams said.