TELFORD VICE, Perth
SPECTATORS streaming towards gate eight at the WACA less than an hour before the start of the test series between Australia and South Africa on Thursday were greeted by a sight not often seen at a cricket match.
There, on a pavement to nearby to ignore, its red and blue lights flashing luridly into the clean, clear sky of a bright morning, hulked a fire engine.
Once they were through the gate – policed as it was in accordance with rules set by the members of the West Australia Cricket Association, which refuses entry to women sporting naked shoulders if the straps of their tops are narrower than 5cm or their hemlines are more than 5cm above their flagrantly exposed knees – those spectators encountered a noise not often heard at a cricket match.
An alarm wailed with woe into the expectant buzz, clanging clumsily against thoughts of whether to bat or field first, or to pick a spinner or let fly with quicks, quicks and more quicks.
But not for long. A fireman flicked a switch in a box mounted on a wall and the alarm was silenced.
Extractor fans in the kitchen of one of the restaurants at the ground had not been turned on, which triggered the summoning of emergency services.
“They were here in 30 seconds,” a security guard said with a hint of professional envy.
In due course the firefighters and their truck went back from whence they came, their job done.
They should have stayed – there would soon be a fire that needed putting out.
The first sparks flew with the fourth ball of the morning, which squared up Stephen Cook, took the edge of his bat, crested high over gully and was caught by Mitchell Marsh channeling his inner leaping salmon.
An hour later the innings was a teetering inferno: 32/4 and burning down faster than a petrol-bombed braai fire in a gale.
Hashim Amla was removed for only his ninth duck in all his 160 test innings.
Dean Elgar, caught behind trying to leave, and JP Duminy were also out – the latter on the scantest snickometre say-so.
Then Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma starved the blaze of oxygen for more than an hour.
Du Plessis’ effort was snuffed out by a fine shoulder-high catch by Adam Voges at first slip.
But Bavuma added a half-century of true grit to his burgeoning reputation at the highest level, an innings carved out under exponentially pressure than when he made his maiden century against England at Newlands last season.
Quinton de Kock brought a different approach and with it runs scored quickly, bravely and nervelessly.
And when he was 16 short of a century a damn fool slower ball from Josh Hazlewood blooped off the top edge of his broadsword bat and plopped into midwicket’s hands.
Bugger. But De Kock had helped add 146 runs to a total that was ablaze on 81/5 when he arrived.
Did that put the fire out? Yes. But another was soon raging.
It’s name was David Warner and there was no controlling its rampant roar through everything South Africa’s bowlers threw at it.
Warner had slashed and burned seven boundaries off the first 28 balls he faced before his opening partner, Shaun Marsh, dared to stroke his first four.
He would have been out leg-before for 17. But Vernon Philander had overstepped. Bugger again.
Instead Warner was 73 not out at stumps in what was shaping up as a five-alarm innings.
“What’s happened has happened, we can’t do anything to change it,” Bavuma, a stoic whether or not he is holding a bat, said.
“It’s obvious that Australia have the upper hand but the game is far from over.”
Indeed. But it’s a good thing there’s a fire engine just 30 seconds away.