In years to come, when South Africa’s second innings scorecard for the final Test at Lord’s is examined, few will bother about Dale Steyn’s innings of nine.
They’ll talk about Hashim Amla’s second century of the series, which after it ended was greeted by a standing ovation. There might even be a mention for Vernon Philander’s 35 and JP Duminy’s unbeaten 26. Nine is not a figure that’ll stand out.
To those in the South African dressing room, however, Steyn’s knock was one to be treasured. And it all has to do with circumstance.
The situation of the game when Steyn came to the crease following Jacques Kallis’s somewhat controversial dismissal on Saturday, was awkward.
Lord’s seldom had as impassioned an atmosphere as was the case on the third evening, and England were energised by this gladiatorial feel, seeking further to upset the touring team’s equilibrium.
Steyn survived until stumps, taking a blow on his left hand, but borrowing from the handbook of football time wasting, one which he milked.
His performance on Sundat was even more stunning and, for his teammates, inspirational.
“The game was in a delicate position,” Amla said.
“Fortunately Dale and I managed to hang in there for 40 minutes and the way Dale played was amazing. It was a difficult time and they bowled quite well and he hung in there and what he did set up the rest of the day for us.”
There was a lot of short stuff from James Anderson and Steven Finn, lots of chatter too and another – more serious-looking – blow on his left hand. But Steyn, who loves batting, would not budge.
Those 40 minutes were important in that they denied England an early opportunity to get at AB de Villiers, a player they knew could take the game away from them.
By the time Steyn was out, 44 minutes into the day’s play, another psychological mark had been made. Then came the big partnership of 95 for the fifth wicket between Amla and De Villiers, which started the process of putting the game beyond England’s reach.
“Guys like Morné (Morkel) and Vernon showed a lot of guts and heart at the end, which was amazing to see,” Amla said.
Before those two got to the crease, though, there was Amla, typically serene in appearance but playing with steely determination.
Perhaps it wasn’t his most fluent knock, but it didn’t need to be; the circumstances of the match required time to be taken out of it and, as importantly, runs on the board.
“The wicket itself is good to bat on but in the last innings there is this thing called pressure,” Amla said.
“When we were batting we felt it because we knew we had to put a big enough total on the board.”
Similarly this kind of pressure would lie with England.
“We are 1-0 up and England have to make the play, if we hit our areas for long enough they are going to have to look to score. We are in a privileged position in the game.”
Amla played the pivotal role on Sunday (and Saturday) in putting them in that position, scoring 121.
There is something about making runs in England that elevates players into the higher echelons of the game and in this series Amla has done that. He will finish with an average of 120.5.
There may have been thin returns in Headingley and the first innings at Lord’s, but he has produced two centuries of the highest class in his first and final knocks of the series.
Lots of work must still be done on the last day for South Africa to match the series win here four years ago, but Amla gave them a significant boost. Philander followed through initially with bat and then with ball to stretch the advantage even further.
Neither, though, will let anyone forget about Steyn’s contribution; nine runs, off 38 balls, in 65 minutes (21 one of those on Saturday evening) and one four.
Sometimes the little things matter the most. – The Star