THE rain to rival that of Noah’s Ark failed to arrive in Hamilton, and the Proteas were caught with their guard down on Tuesday, as a resolute New Zealand ended day four in control of the third and final Test between the two nations.
South Africa went to bed on a parlous 80 for five, which is actually negative-95 for the loss of the bulk of their specialist batsmen. It was an incredible final session for the Kiwis, who had been dragged back into the contest by a masterly 176 by their talismanic leader, Kane Williamson.
Without his runs, and then the annoying 57 that Colin de Grandhomme slammed towards the back end of a monstrous, 489 total by the hosts, the contest would have been dead in the water – even without the deluge that the weather gods had promised.
Instead, that pile of runs – and the increasingly positive rate that New Zealand scored at – shifted the pressure squarely onto the shoulders of South Africa. Their response to that pressure was not in keeping with the manner that they have handled the series to this point.
The state of mind of the South African camp may still be positive, but there was one moment that will live long in the memory as a symbol of what happens when pressure affects quality players. Hashim Amla, still seeking his best touch, nudged a Neil Wagner delivery towards mid-off, and called debutant Theunis de Bruyn through for a sharp single.
Having already lost Dean Elgar early, there was no need for the risk, especially with the state of the match having shifted. Amla may have been running to the danger end, but it was debatable whether he would have made it, anyway.
As it was, he crashed into De Bruyn, and they ended in a heap, allowing a gleeful Kiwi team to complete the run-out at the striker’s end. Amla took a knee of woeful contemplation, and De Bruyn looked to the heavens, and must have quietly cursed his misfortune.
He had finally got off the mark in Test cricket, and had played a few shots that suggested a move towards comfort. And then, just like that, he was trudging back to the pavilion, in a dirty, depressed mess.
That moment must have galvanised the Black Caps, because run outs are usually a sign of some sort of panicky state. The carnage continued, as Amla himself then went for 19, to the spin of Jeetan Patel. JP Duminy, continuing a lean patch, then chose the wrong Patel line to leave, and heard his timber rumble, as the tourists found their hole getting even deeper. If he had cried, the world would have understood.
Before the day was done, Temba Bavuma was caught behind off Matt Henry, to confirm the most emphatic of turnarounds for the Kiwis. Their indefatigable spirit, coupled with some curious cricket decisions by the Proteas, mean that we are all set for a most intriguing final day.
Indeed, the rain that was supposed to come on day four will now be welcomed on day five by the tourists, who are in danger of unravelling over a month of fine work with one day of horror. Such is life in the panicky lane.
The deficit of 95 is the first, massive hurdle for the Proteas, even before they think of saving the match. New Zealand with tails up and chattering men around the bat, will be all over Messrs Du Plessis and De Kock in the first session of day five.
It will be no place for weak minds and half-strokes. South Africa have a Test – and a series triumph – to salvage, and they wouldn’t say no if Mother Nature lent a hand.