Not even cold comfort for SA in England

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Manchester

“EMAWENI webaba … Silale maweni … Webaba silale maweni …” Could there be a less congruous setting for that lilt to leak into than a damp, desolate afternoon at Old Trafford, the wind whipping at the security staff’s day-glo bibs, themselves a cruelly bright joke in the gloom?

Not to South Africans trying to remember what it feels like to wear a pair of shorts. England isn’t short of rooibos and biltong, but it has about as much decent weather as Cape Town has water. Summer? Where? When?

“Homeless, homeless …

“Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake …”

Damn you and your magic spell of a voice, Joseph Tshabalala, even if you’re only doing your bit to test the ground’s sound system.

It was Thursday, the day before the start of the last test in a series South Africa can no longer win, which has followed a failed one-day rubber, a dog’s breakfast of a Champions Trophy campaign, and a T20 series that sticks in the memory only to remind us that it, too, was lost.

When did all that start? May 19 with a tour match against Sussex at Hove …

Morne Morkel and Chris Morris have been here for the duration. Test squad members Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj and Andile Phehlukwayo were also around for the ODIs, which started on May 24.

Been an age, hasn’t it?

“It’s a very long tour, and it’s an extremely long time to be away from home,” Du Plessis said. “We had a break in the middle [during the T20s], but having the tests at the end makes it even more of a challenge.”

Hang on. Du Plessis wasn’t around for the first test at Lord’s, which he watched from home while holding his newborn daughter in his arms. How clever does that decision look in light of England’s 211-run win there?

“If I have the opportunity again I’d do exactly the same thing, knowing what my wife went through,” he said. “Even if I played, mentally I wouldn’t have been there 100%.

“That wouldn’t have been fair to my team. It’s about giving the best of you when you’re there.”

Not that South Africa have given their best. Instead they’ve played below themselves, which the test series has magnified.

“On long tours like this you need to start with the test matches and end with the T20s, but that’s just the way the schedule is and that’s not an excuse,” Du Plessis said.

“But in a perfect world that would work better.”

Perfection. That seemed in touching distance while Du Plessis’ test team were reeling off series victories over New Zealand, home and away, Australia and Sri Lanka. No longer.

“We haven’t settled on what we want to be as a test team,” Du Plessis said. “The big issue is four seamers versus seven batsmen.”

Decide already: India are coming, then Australia.

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