TELFORD VICE, Hobart
EIGHT wickets to take. More than a day to take them. And then, if needs be, a bit of batting.
South Africa’s script for the last two days of the second test against Australia at Bellerive Oval in Hobart seemed straightforward.
Until, that is, Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada took all eight of those wickets for 32 runs on Tuesday. The last of them fell 95 minutes after the first, all crashing in the space of 116 deliveries.
Abbott took 6/77, Rabada claimed 4/34, and South Africa dismissed Australia for 161 to win by an innings and 80 runs.
A match deprived of its entire second day by rain was decided in not quite seven sessions of play, the last wicket falling half-an-hour before lunch.
With that came the series – completing South Africa’s hat-trick of such triumphs in this country and making them only the second team after the great West Indians, who reeled off three in a row between 1984 and 1992, to know this feeling.
Tear up that straightforward script.
Faf du Plessis’ immediate response to all that said it better than any number of words could: “Sho!”
But it will take much more than that to explain how the hell this happened.
How, for instance, could a South African team without AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn be so dominant?
“Enjoy it,” was Du Plessis televised advice to his injured, temporarily former teammates. “Celebrate it with us.”
Back in South Africa, Steyn already was.
“Think I’m going to have a beer at 3am,” he posted on social media.
Things weren’t quite so pretty across the dressingroom divide.
“Stick with us, we’re doing our best,” Steve Smith, who is becoming adept at talking his way through failure having captained Australia to 10 losses – seven of them against South Africa – in their last 11 tests and one-day internationals, told the nation.
“We’re trying to turn it around. We’ve lost our last five test matches and we’re better than that.”
Australia are. Thing is, South Africa have been better than their opponents on all fronts.
Like they were on Tuesday.
Sometimes fast bowlers do little more than put the ball into play. Other times they rely on batting errors to engineer chances to take wickets.
And then there is the calibre of fast bowling that, given the right conditions, will not be denied; that hunts its prey with blood hot and heads cool.
Abbott, Rabada and Vernon Philander were those bowlers on Tuesday, hurling pace, seam movement and swing at their quarry with unerring accuracy and reaping all the rewards they didn’t on Monday – when they bowled just as well but somehow did not find the edge.
Australia resumed on 121/2 with Usman Khawaja and Smith surely set to see out as much of the two days as possible.
Smith stuck to that plan, taking 25 minutes and 40 balls to add to his overnight score of 18.
But by then Khawaja had swung and edged his way back to the dressingroom for 64.
The snuffing out of that stand brought a bigger than usual yawp from the South Africans. They knew that would be the key blow, and they had struck it with only the 30th ball of the day.
Smith was eighth out for 31. He provided a fine example of how to try and stand firm in the face of outrageous odds. No-one else did.
Undeservedly, Philander finished wicketless. But he did have the satisfaction of taking the catch at mid-on that removed Nathan Lyon and ended the match.
Even as his teammates whooped and tore about the place like kids celebrating the end of the school year, Philander stood still and silent for a long moment with the ball cupped to his chest, taking it all in, warming to the wonder of the moment.
Eight wickets to take? More than a day to take them? And then, if needs be, a bit of batting?
That’s a script for another day.