TELFORD VICE, Adelaide
AND so, not before time, to the cricket. If you turned on your television at half-past five on Thursday morning, gentle reader, you should not have seen a man munching a mint with his mouth rudely open and his fingers halfway down his throat, nor a security guard committing what in the real world would have been grounds for charges of assault.
Instead you would have seen a bowler hurl a ball at a batsman in the golden glare of an Adelaide afternoon. A pink ball, no less.
After too many days of craziness, of Faf du Plessis being convicted of ball-tampering before he was found guilty and then denying any wrongdoing, of Zunaid Wadee visiting violence on reporters and getting away with it, and of Steve Smith admitting that his Australians do exactly what Du Plessis has been hung on a meathook for, we have ourselves a cricket match.
And not just any cricket match. It’s a test, a day/night test, and the test that could make South Africa the first team to smack Australia 3-0 at home.
“The thing that’s most disappointing about this is that we’ve come here and dominated,” Du Plessis said on Wednesday.
“We’ve played exceptionally well, and as a leader you want to make sure that that makes headlines.
“So it’s been disappointing that, according to me, such a small thing has happened and that’s taken all the shine away … excuse the pun.
“That should in the headlines – the way we’ve played as a team. My focus is now fully on making sure we whitewash Australia.”
A new version of the pink ball and less grass on the pitch will only add to that challenge.
Last season’s ball, which was used during the first ever day/night match in the oldest format, between Australia and New Zealand at the same venue in November, had a green seam and swung prodigiously.
The latest model sports a black seam – all the better for batsmen to be able to see it – and an extra coat of lacquer to keep it honest.
The grass on the pitch is six millimetres long, down from last year’s eight millimetres long.
Those measures, organisers hope, will make this match last longer than the not quite three days it took the Aussies to win a year ago.
Not that the home side win much these days, having crashed to defeat in five tests straight.
Consequently, they have made five changes to the side went down by an innings in Hobart.
The South Africans looked like changing as little as possible, although a debut for left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi would be in keeping with the approach of this brave team.
More of that kind of thinking came from Du Plessis: “Two-thirds of the game is in the daytime. To call it a day/night test match might make you think everything’s happening at night.
“But actually … it’s only an hour, from eight to nine and 9.30pm is cut-off time, that happens at night.
“It’s actually a really short time with the pink ball (under the floodlights).”
Nevermind all that. How might he shine the ball now that his favoured technique of using mints as an artificial – and therefore illegal – aid has been exposed?
“I’ll probably just touch my finger (to my mouth) and get a little bit of spit on it,” Du Plessis said.
“There’s going to be a lot of eyes on everyone now, I’m sure; not just on the South African team but on the Australians as well.
“But I still feel about it exactly the same way – whether I was guilty or not, whether the sentence was different or not.”
And, no doubt, whether the result in Adelaide is different or not.