TELFORD VICE, Centurion
“OOPSY daisy!” It was difficult to decide which was less common: the captain of a test team saying something so warmly fuzzy, or the ace acrobat we call AB de Villiers falling victim to clumsiness.
So the odds on De Villiers being guilty on both counts would have been as long as those on a tie in the fourth test between SA and England, which starts at Centurion on Friday.
At least one online bookmaker had that chance pegged at 201 to one on Thursday, no leather jacket required.
But De Villiers really did kick over a mic stand lurking below his eyeline on the floor in front of the table he sat behind at his press conference on Thursday. And in reaction he really did say, “Oopsy daisy!”
Go on – allow yourself a smile, assuming you find that even a little funny. In these straightened times, what with the twin trains of a toothless test team and a match-fixing mess hurtling towards each other in the dark tunnel SA cricket has become, we should take all the laughs we find.
Enough with the jokes. Back to reality.
“We haven’t won a test for 12 months,” De Villiers said. “We are rebuilding and trying to find our feet. It’s time for us to wake up and to start playing proper cricket.”
Hell yes. But it’s a pity that what happens in Friday’s match matters not a jot because England have already won the series.
And how a 1-2 rather than a 0-3 scoreline sounds and what it means are trains heading in opposite directions. Even if SA win by an innings – odds on that outcome proved too long to find – the truth of their crashing decline will remain stark.
Five losses in nine tests without a single victory has earned De Villiers’ men stinging criticism from former SA captain Graeme Smith and Ashwell Prince, a serving selector, among others.
“It’s funny, because when I used to play with these guys they would talk about past players criticising them, and (saying) they can’t believe it and they’ll never become like that,” De Villiers said. “So it’s pretty funny and it shows you how quickly things change.
“But I’ve got no-one to blame. We haven’t won for a while and we deserve criticism. It’s disappointing, but there are no hard feelings. We’ve got to move on as a team and try and win games.
“Before our run of four or five very good years, just before that there was also a patch when Graeme was captaining when people were talking in exactly the same way about us. I’m hoping we can make that turn quicker than people are expecting us to do.”
One way to do that would be to steady SA’s shaky batting, which has seen them dismissed for fewer than 200 in 10 of their last 14 test innings. And a way to do that might be the appointment of a batting coach.
“We’ve been a bit naive in believing we can go on the way we have been,” De Villiers said. “We need to get advice and help, not only from a batting coach but in a few other areas as well.”
Another remedy could be the capping of Stephen Cook, who De Villiers confirmed would play on Friday. That means SA will send a pair of recognised openers to the middle for the first time in 15 test innings.
And that in SA’s 400th test. Even South Africans not of a gambling persuasion will wonder what the odds are of the home side reaching that number of runs at Centurion’s batting crease.