TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
THE consequence of SA hurtling from the world’s finest test team to a bunch of losers since the World Cup was neatly captured in a moment beyond the boundary at Kingsmead on Thursday.
JP Duminy and Morne Morkel were SA’s last pair. Victory for anyone but England was an outrageous notion. Drawing was about as likely as the rand being stronger than the pound in our lifetimes.
Steven Finn, as English as chicken tikka and lager, was stationed on the fine leg fence. Behind him a gaggle of boys and girls who five days previously wouldn’t have had a clue who he was held out miniature bats, notepads and pens with the precious expectancy only eight-year-olds can conjure. Between deliveries, Finn obliged them with careful respect.
Several of the kids wore replica SA one-day or T20 shirts. A year or two from now, if this nightmare keeps recurring, will they prefer any colours that are not green and gold.
Presently, Moeen Ali trapped Morne Morkel in front and, after a gratuitous referral to the electronic umpire, England’s win, by 241 runs, was complete.
The visitors had needed 101 minutes and 24 overs to take the last six wickets. In that time SA scored 38 runs.
The first two wickets went down before they had added a run to their overnight score, and the first of those scalps decided the match itself.
Moeen pitched the third delivery of the day on middle. It turned sharply and crashed into AB de Villiers’ pads as he leapt and tried to nudge the ball to leg all in one impossible motion.
Aleem Dar raised his finger, De Villiers reviewed, and the replay showed the ball would have clipped the outside third of leg stump. Not for the first time, “umpire’s call” was music to some ears and a curse to others.
Nothing else mattered, although JP Duminy stuck it out for an unbeaten 26 – only his third score of more than 20 in a dozen test innings.
Finn nailing Dale Steyn’s off stump gave him a haul of 4/42, and Moeen’s 3/47 added up to match figures of 7/116.
With that, SA’s test schedule for 2015 was done. Thursday’s result marked their third consecutive defeat. For the first time since 1963, no pair of their batsmen shared a century stand in a calendar year. They have since played 249 tests.
SA totalled more than 300 only once in 11 completed innings, against woeful West Indies at Newlands in January. They were dismissed for fewer than 200 six times and once – by India in Nagpur last month – for 79.
In 2015, SA played eight, won one, lost four and drew three.
Those are not the numbers associated with the No. 1 ranked team. In 2012, when SA earned that accolade in England, they were unbeaten in 10 tests and won half of them.
“Not scoring the runs has been our Achilles heel,” Hashim Amla said. “It’s been very disappointing for everybody. It’s a confidence thing. We don’t know how long the corner is (before it is turned). We hope it’s very close by.”
Amla himself will be keener than most to get around that corner. He averages 15.00 in his last 10 test innings. His overall average is 50.05.
“It’s about confidence,” he said. “It’s about getting the runs. The thing is, you get confident once you get the runs. You can be doing everything in the nets, putting the work in behind the scenes, but it’s got to materialise into runs on the board – especially in the big games.”
Could SA’s crash be traced to the World Cup in March, when the suits undermined the team by meddling in the selection of the XI for the semi-final against New Zealand, which SA duly lost?
“You’ve got to look at the formats separately,” Amla said. “The one-day team has been good since the World Cup. Beating India in India was a phenomenal effort for the one-day team and the T20 team.
“I wouldn’t say the World Cup was the start of anything. The test team itself has changed over the last couple of years. There are a lot of youngsters in the side. The test team is still finding something. It’s a developing team.”
An hour or so after all was done and said, Moeen, out of his whites but wearing England team gear, stepped across the boundary and headed for the middle.
He walked more slowly than usual, and for good reason. Busily toddling beside Moeen as fast as his two-year-old legs could carry him was Abu Bakr, his son.
The kid wore a white shirt and blue jeans. No green. No gold.