Smile, the beloved country

Times Media


IF you have to put up with a game of cricket going nowhere slowly, Newlands is not the worst place to be so fated.

The second test between SA and England became just such a match on the fourth day on Tuesday, when England reached stumps on 16 without loss in their second innings – a lead of 18.

That’s after Hashim Amla declared SA’s first innings closed on 627/7, which they scored in reply to England’s 629/6.

To create a contest from here on a still sound surface will demand a brand of bowling even an experienced SA attack would struggle to deliver. The frontline bowlers in this SA attack hold 78 caps. Sixty-nine of them belong to Morne Morkel.

Nevermind. Table Mountain will brood as beautifully as ever on Wednesday, and The Oaks will still be the most perfect patch of grass in all the world from which to watch cricket.

There was also beauty and perfection to be seen out in the middle on Tuesday, particularly while Temba Bavuma and Chris Morris were compiling their lusty, lively seventh-wicket stand of 167; a shimmering thing of enterprise and go-getting.

There was also ugliness out in the middle on Tuesday.

“You’re absolutely shit,” Ben Stokes said to Bavuma – the words were obvious to even the most inexperienced lipreader – when the latter edged one of his deliveries down leg for four.

The mishit took Bavuma to eight not out. You wonder what Stokes thinks of him when now that he owns his first test century, an undefeated 102 struck with crisp, compelling urgency off 148 balls.

Who the hell cares. In Bavuma’s hometown, Langa, just 10 kilometres from Newlands but a world away, the celebrations are probably still booming.

Indeed, all SA supporters would be forgiven for popping their corks prematurely – the redemptive cricket their team have played has been more valuable than winning.

After four losses in five tests and a rain-induced draw in the other, winning at Newlands would turn SA into kids locked in a sweet shop overnight.

The draw that is likely is, for SA, like eating your recommended annual allowance of steamed broccoli in one sitting: not much fun but outrageously good for you.

And it’s not as if they didn’t have to work hard to reach relative safety. Hashim Amla’s 201 was central to the narrative, as was Faf du Plessis’ 86. Their stand of 171 that halted England’s progress for more than four-and-a-half hours could just be the “corner” SA have been talking about turning for weeks now.

But when they were dismissed four deliveries apart with the third new ball – Amla edging Stuart Broad onto his leg stump and Du Plessis taken at third slip off James Anderson coming around the wicket – SA were still 190 runs behind and the better half of their wickets had been lost.

That would have been a challenging situation for most teams. For a side whose biggest total in their previous 10 completed innings was 248, and who have in those innings been bowled out for fewer than 200 six times, under 150 three times, and once for 79, the challenge loomed twice as tall as Table Mountain. 

At 1.67 metres tall, Bavuma has looked up at challenges for most of his 25 years. Morris, all 1.93 metres of him, has bowled rather than batted his way to success and this, his test debut.

There are 26 centimetres and all sorts of other separation between them. But, on Tuesday, they were brothers.

In this of all weeks, with racism on the beaches and stupidity on social media, the beloved country could finally smile.





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