Dead rubber not buried

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

DOES Thursday’s third test between South Africa and Sri Lanka at the Wanderers matter? Not a jot. If cricket had any sense it would be cancelled.

That’s in the bigger scheme of things. On a smaller scale the match matters plenty.

It is the first time South Africa will play a test without AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel or Kyle Abbott since November 2004.

South Africa have learnt how to win without the first three players on that list, who are all injured.

But it’s the omission of Abbott, who announced on Thursday that he had removed himself from the equation by going Kolpak, that could hurt them most.

Abbott neither has Steyn’s fire and presence nor Morkel’s bounce. But he is more consistent than Steyn and he does more with the ball than Morkel.

The sheer quality of Abbott’s bowling has given South Africa the leeway to allow Kagiso Rabada to let fly for all his youthful worth, and made Vernon Philander an even more dangerous prospect than he is.

Philander. Abbott. Rabada. Good luck finding chinks in that armour.

“Test cricket is about controlling the game, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing with Kyle and Vernon,” Faf du Plessis said after South Africa clinched the series by winning by 282 runs with more than a day to spare at Newlands on Thursday.

Abbott took no wickets in the match but  he was key to Rabada’s 10/92, a performance that wrote another chapter in the story of what could be one of the great careers and confirmed that, no, he does not need a rest.

“He’s the perfect bowler for a captain because, exactly what I tell him to do or ask him to do, he does that,” Du Plessis said.

“If I want him to bowl a thousand short balls in a row he’ll do it.”

And if  South Africa ask for, and are given, the kind of generously grassed pitch at the Wanderers that they won on at St George’s Park and Newlands, a thousand short balls could be the required dose.

“If there’s one of two percent I can add as a captain and making sure we get the conditions that we ask for then, definitely, I’m going to try and scream it from the top of my lungs to make sure we get it,” Du Plessis said.

“It’s important to make sure you maximise the conditions you have.”

Dean Elgar proved, in his innings of 129 and 55 at Newlands, that the grass can be greener on this side of pitch preparation even for openers.

But there’s reason to think carefully about that approach at the Wanderers.

Hashim Amla, breaker of records and stereotypes, a fine player and a redoubtable man, will play his 100th test.

Amla’s career has been as much a journey for South African cricket as for the man himself.

But he is not in the best of form.

So, keep off the grass, skipper.

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