Johannesburg — Tumi Sekhukhune, in her role as nightwatcher, batted for 47 overs to help South Africa sneak a stunning draw in the once-off Test against England in Taunton on Thursday.
The fickle English weather played its part too with rain that had washed out half of Wednesday’s play, doing the Proteas a great service in washing away two thirds of the final days as well.
To say it was only rain that saved South Africa would be doing Sekhukhune, hitherto unheralded as a batter, an enormous discredit. She fought bravely in extremely testing conditions, with the floodlights providing light for most of her innings, while spurts of drizzle fell too, with the umpires choosing to continue with play.
In addition there was England’s bowling, led by the outstanding Kate Cross, who bowled a nagging length that consistently examined the batters’ defence, the lanky Lauren Bell with her relentless in-swingers and the new star of the English game, Issy Wong, who’s pace proved a handful throughout.
Wong, just 20, was the most difficult of the bowlers to face on Thursday, creating two chances - one against Sekhukhune - that her teammates failed to grasp. Given how she had bowled in the last 20 minutes of the third evening it was very surprising that when play resumed on Thursday, under sunny skies, Wong wasn’t immediately asked to bowl.
In fact it took the England captain Heather Knight more than an hour until she turned to the young tearaway. In that time England did take a wicket when Cross trapped South Africa’s captain Sune Luus lbw for 10.
But evidence of the trouble Wong was able to cause came at the end of her first over, when she found the edge of Lizelle Lee’s bat, but the home team’s wicket-keeper, Amy Jones dropped a relatively easy catch.
Having survived that opportunity when on 13, Lee opened her shoulders and struck five fours in her innings of 36. She was well caught by Cross, running back from mid-off, to give the left-arm spinner Sophie Eccelstone her only wicket in the innings.
Lunch was taken early because of rain, by which stage the Proteas had gone into the lead.
Sekhukhune maintained her gritty focus, leaving balls that weren’t targeting the stumps, blocking those that did, and on a couple of occasions, locating the boundary. One of those was to cut Ecclestone behind point, but there were also a couple of lovely drives through the off-side.
First innings heroine, Marizanne Kapp continued her excellent form making 43 not out off 58 balls, hitting eight fours.
Wong created another opportunity when she induced a false stroke from Sekhukhune, who glanced a ball towards Ecclestone at second slip, but the chance was spilled.
Five minutes later the rain returned once and for all, and with no let up, the two captains shook hands. Sekhukhune finished on 33 not out, having batted for three hours, in which she faced 134 balls and hit three fours.
Given that it was South Africa’s first Test in eight years, they had nine debutants and were in trouble both with the bat and in the field, it is an outcome that will surely lift the spirits of the players at the start of a lengthy tour to England.
South Africa 284 and 181/5
England 417/7 decl.
Result: Match drawn