TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth
SAWDUST was splashed around St George’s Park on Wednesday in the wake of the thunderstorm that visited violence on the grand old ground in the morning and the monkey’s wedding that interrupted the afternoon’s play.
But some will wonder, unnecessarily nastily, whether the shapeless manilla patches that scarred the field on the third day of the first test between South Africa and Sri Lanka weren’t left by Stephen Cook and his creakingly wooden technique.
The joke will doubtless be accepted with good grace by a player who was heard many like it.
Besides, people can say what the hell they like when you reel off two centuries and a half-century in three test innings and help your team build their lead to 432 with two full days of the match remaining.
“It takes a thick skin and I’ve developed that over the years,” Cook said. “I’ve been in some changerooms with some pretty hostile environments and some teammates that like to give you a lot of trouble.
“If you make it out of your own dressingroom you’re usually good for the middle.”
Neil McKenzie, South Africa’s batting coach and an almost constant presence in Cook’s career with the Lions, would seem to be of the hard bastard ilk.
“‘Mackie’s’ from the school of tough love, so that’s contributed as well.”
Cook, who scored 104 in Adelaide last month and 59 in the first innings of this match, creaked all the way to 117 on Wednesday.
Consequently, South Africa rode into a glorious sunset on 351/5 in their second innings.
Vernon Philander’s mastery in his 5/45, his 11th five-wicket haul, was one piece of the puzzle. Cook’s effort was the other.
Table Mountain is a long way from Port Elizabeth, but the Lankans would be forgiven for imagining they see something easily as large looming on the horizon at the start of a second innings that is likely to be all about survival.
The visitors rocked South Africa in the home side’s first innings of 286. What made the difference on Wednesday?
“We had an urgency about us, especially in the way we ran (between the wickets),” Cook said.
“In the first innings Sri Lanka employed that deep point, deep square leg tactic quite a lot to cut off the boundaries.
“Dean (Elgar) and I, and when Hashim (Amla) came in, we looked to exploit the singles and make sure they couldn’t settle on their lengths.
“We didn’t hit that many more boundaries but we rotated the strike and ran a lot harder. That allowed us to stay ahead of the game.”
And how, especially in the partnership of 116 Cook and Elgar shared on the back of the 104 they realised in the first innings.
That made them only the 10th pair among the 1407 who have opened the batting in all 2243 tests yet played to mount century stands in both innings of the same match.
Only one other South African pair have achieved the feat – Bruce Mitchell and Bob Catterall, who shared 119 and 171 against England in Birmingham in 1929. That’s 87 years ago.
As impressive as all that was, it shouldn’t take the shine of South Africa’s fine display with the ball.
Sri Lanka resumed on 181/7 and lost the gritty Dhananjaya de Silva, who showed patience to reach 43 not out at stumps on Tuesday, to the first ball on Wednesday.
It was a peach of an away-swinger from Philander, which de Silva could only guide into Quinton de Kock’s gloves.
The Lankans were dismissed for 205 in the eighth over of the day with Kyle Abbott, who took 3/63, adding to the pressure heaped by Philander.
Cook and Elgar maintained South Africa’s dominance but only 56 runs separated the dismissals of Amla, Cook, JP Duminy and Temba Bavuma.
But Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock dispelled any thoughts Sr Lanka might have had of not facing a towering target with a stand worth 74 that will resume today.
Who knows when, or even if, the declaration will come. But with no interference from the weather forecast for the rest of the match South Africa are in no hurry.