TELFORD VICE at The Oval
HOW heavily is the prospect of having to survive the last day of the third test on Monday weighing on South Africa?
Not at all, if the mood of their assistant coach after stumps on Sunday was anything to go by.
Adrian Birrell entered the room for the post-play press conference with a cheery: “Hello!”
And when he had answered all questions asked of him he left with an equally ebullient, “Bye-bye! I’ll see you when we’re in trouble again!”
If you didn’t know the visitors were 117/4 in search of what would be a world record target of 492, you wouldn’t have guessed it.
Neither, it seems, would you have seen signs of stress in South Africa’s dressingroom.
“We will fight — we’ve fought before,” Birrell said. “It’s quite a buoyant changeroom, actually. There is hope.”
Much of the remaining fighting will have to be done by Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma, who are 72 and 16 not out in a partnership that has endured for 21 overs and is worth 64 runs.
Bavuma, Birrell said, should “do what he does best — he toughs it out. He’s a tough little guy and he’s not going to get overawed”.
Elgar soaked up the pain of being hit on his left hand by Ben Stokes, which followed a blow he took on the same hand while bowling in England’s second innings.
“When I walked past [Elgar] on my way here he had his finger cup of ice,” Birrell said.
“I don’t know if it’s broken, and if it is broken it won’t matter — he’ll bat …”
Whereupon he was interrupted by the team’s media officer, who shook her head at him.
“It isn’t broken?”
With that Birrell turned back to the listening, scribbling reporters.
“It’s not broken, and if it was it wouldn’t have made a difference — he will bat.”
And bat, and bat, and bat, and bat, and bat some more, Birrell did not say.
“Our two fantastic blockers are out; someone else is going to have to do it,” he said with reference to Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis.
Amla scored an undefeated 311 in more than 13 hours in South Africa’s only victory in a test at The Oval, in July 2012, and Du Plessis batted for more than a day to score 110 not out to save the Perth test against Australia in November of the same year.
But on Sunday they were dismissed for five and nought.
That brings us back to Elgar and Bavuma, who prompted Graeme Smith to wonder out loud on Test Match Special what the record was for the shortest pair of batsmen to share a test partnership.
Fun and games all round, then. But utter seriousness will be required when South Africa resume on Monday.
Good thing they have two big men at the crease.