TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THE last time SA were at Newlands, they drew a test, lost a captain and gained a glimpse of a future imperfect. This time, they have their eye on the consolation prize of the one-day series.
Victory on Sunday will give them that, at least. But England are also a win away from claiming that prize, and from completing the double of winning the test and ODI series – a comet that last came round for a team visiting SA in 2002.
This contestable crescendo is what sport strives for when it couldn’t be bothered with nuance. It’s a gripping script that has been followed perfectly in this case; from England winning the first two matches as easily as if they were slugging a couple of cold pints on a hot day, to SA only just catching the boerewors as it slipped through the grid towards the coals to level matters going into Sunday’s decider.
Holding the tongs is AB de Villiers: “We know what it feels like being 2-0 down; it’s a horrible feeling and you don’t really know where to go except to go out there and fight it out as much as you can.
“Hopefully we’ve got enough confidence and momentum on our side. But the game will start at 0-0 and we’ve got to find a way to get the momentum going (on Sunday).”
Damon Runyon could have banged out a fine version of the story thus far, but JK Rowling might have been responsible for what happened at the Wanderers on Friday.
So much so that someone should check Chris Morris’ forehead for a scar resembling a lightning bolt. At 28, he is the boy whose team lived because of his outrageous 62.
Morris is the reason SA still have a shot at winning the series. In the pink unreality of it all, he earned the unconditional love of what used to be his home crowd. On social media, he earned a nickname – “Chuck Morris” – and at least one proposal of marriage. From a straight man who is already married.
“To win a game for your country, doesn’t matter what format, is a special feeling,” Morris said. “I’m just happy I could contribute, but in saying that I’m happy I got some runs under my belt – it was nice to hit a few out of the park.”
And it was nice for De Villiers to watch them disappear into the night sky.
“It’s knocks like that that shape a player,” he said. “It’s massive for Chris. The game and sport is about confidence. Knocks like this push someone way above the bar. It’s so big for him and the team.”
Indeed, in team terms Morris has answered some of the questions SA have been asking themselves about where their next allrounder will come from.
Morris started answering them the last time he took on England at Newlands. His silkily scored 69 was not the kind of thing expected from bowlers who have been hammered for 150 runs on their test debut.
Much of the hammering was done by another boyish wizard; a kid from Cumbria, goes by the name of Ben Stokes, whose 258 was both a celebration of what test cricket can be and an indictment of why it isn’t that more often.
It doesn’t take an accomplished author to write up Sunday’s match as a confrontation between the emphatic talents of Morris and Stokes that looms as large as Table Mountain itself.
But, of course, things are not that simple. Even so, no-one in an England shirt today is as watchable as Stokes; not Joe Root, a peerless technician, nor Stuart Broad, who showed in unwittingly helping Morris win Friday’s match that his heart isn’t always as big as his team needs it to be.
Besides Morris, SA have De Villiers to stir the blood, Quinton de Kock to make it soar and Kagiso Rabada to make it roar.
This is a clash between gentlemen and players, scrappers and swashbucklers, pretenders and contenders.
Runyon and Rowling are waiting, pencils poised.