De Villiers SA’s man on Everest

Times Media


THE world ended at 3.41pm on Tuesday. At least, it did for Dean Elgar. When he swung wearily at a full, wide delivery from Steven Finn that found something nasty in Kingsmead’s sagging pitch, Elgar had been on the field for every minute of the first test between SA and England.

That’s a total of 1 406 minutes, only 34 short of a full 24 hours spread over four days. Elgar had spent a good chunk of that time carrying his bat for a century in SA’s first innings, but more than twice as much in the field trying to stop England from dominating. Like his teammates, he failed in that aim.

The thick edge curled off the wandering tangent that was Elgar’s bat and screamed through Durban’s damp, sticky soup of air. For an instant it threatened to dislocate second slip’s shoulder. Instead, it smacked into Joe Root’s hands and stayed there.

Elgar was free at last.

Not that he accepted his fate. He stood where he fell. He took a few steps forward and stood again. He removed his helmet and looked through eyes loaded with lead at something the rest of us will never see.

Perhaps he thought he had hit the ground and not the ball. Perhaps he was waiting for the umpires to check whether Finn had overstepped.

Perhaps he wondered how Stiaan van Zyl had clipped six fours in his 33, considering the wreck he has been for too many innings.

Perhaps he wondered where Hashim Amla had fetched the tailender’s slash that got him out.

Perhaps he couldn’t quite believe what a silly thing he himself had done.

Perhaps he knew it was over.

At last, he left.

Just more than an hour later, SA reached stumps on 136/4 – still 280 away from their target of 416, which is two runs shy of the most runs any team have yet scored in a successful runchase.

SA’s Everest of a target would have loomed even higher had Dane Piedt not become the first SA off-spinner to take five wickets in a test innings at Kingsmead since Hugh Tayfield in 1957.

“Test cricket is not played on the couch – if it was played on the couch it would be an easy game,” Piedt, who took 5/153, said to emphasise the enormity of Wednesday’s task.

Or was he getting at something else?

“Test cricket is not a Sunfoil Series game against the Knights in Kimberley.”

Did you hear that, Imran Tahir, you who took a career-best 8/42 for the Dolphins against the Knights in a Sunfoil Series match in Kimberley on Tuesday?

That kind of talk is encouragingly defiant, given that the closest a side batting last at Kingsmead have come to hunting down the kind of target that SA face on Wednesday was in March 2002, when they scored 340/5 to beat Australia.

Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and, yes, folks, Mark Waugh were Australia’s bowlers. But SA’s batsmen were Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Neil McKenzie, Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher. And the Aussies had already clinched the series.

This SA team are different from that XI in good and bad ways, but the more important truth is that they are not the force they were just a few months ago.

But if they find, from somewhere, the right stuff to win this match, they will have achieved what would be the greatest victory in SA’s history. Unarguably. Even a draw would be a significant feat considering the sorry mental state of SA’s batting line-up.

Either of those two outcomes seemed not quite probable but perhaps possible before an angled ripper from Finn took the shoulder of Faf du Plessis’ bat on its way to first slip, where Alastair Cook held a life-threatening catch.

“It wasn’t ideal to lose Faf so late in the day,” Piedt said. “But the batmen coming in, we’re really going to knuckle down.”

Du Plessis’ nine had taken him 103 minutes and 66 balls, and his dismissal brought Dale Steyn to the crease to face five slips, a silly mid-off and a short leg along with Finn and the last three balls of the day’s play.

Steyn got the job done, and this morning he and AB de Villiers – who survived a missed stumping by Jonny Bairstow seven overs before the close – will resume the fight.

Was De Villiers’ wicket the key on Wednesday, Finn was asked.

“He averages 50-odd in tests … So, yeah.”

Indeed. And that’s 51.62, if you please, Mr Finn.





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