All is right with South African cricket again
PRETORIA – South Africa has won a Test match again. They will savour it, as they must.
Monday, January 14, 2019, was the last time the Proteas left a cricket field having won a Test. Since then they’ve been ‘Perera-ed’ ‘Kohli-ed’, ‘Agarwal-ed’ and ‘Ashwin-ed.’ Five losses in a row. But from Boxing Day until the third last day of 2019, they started to find themselves again. And they would find victory again.
The would find it in the precocious batting of Quinton de Kock in the first innings, the brilliance of Vernon Philander with the ball when it was England’s turn to bat, the courage and fortitude of Anrich Nortje as a nightwatchman, the patience and discipline of the bowlers, the athletic fury in the field in England’s second innings and the ferocity of Kagiso Rabada (in both innings) and Nortje with the second new ball on Sunday.
It is important to note, South African cricket has come from a dark place, selfish administrators have done their best to put themselves ahead of the game they are supposed to serve. It has taken the players to protest through their union, and to then refocus and train to prepare themselves in less time than is optimal for a four Test series.
The interim Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith has had to hastily assemble a coaching staff, Mark Boucher cut short a family holiday, Jacques Kallis and Charl Langeveldt answered the call and Enoch Nkwe took a step down, to help this team. They all made sacrifices and in doing so have set an example for Cricket SA’s administrators to follow.
It was by no means a flawless performance - how could it have been under the circumstances the team faced in the build-up? Aiden Markram’s form is a massive concern, and now he faces six weeks on the sidelines. The batting overall still lacks confidence and in this Test it took a couple of remarkable performances from De Kock, Nortje and Rassie van der Dussen to get the team into a strong position.
The bowling was much improved from India. Yes, conditions were more to their liking, but there was a thoughtfulness about their methods and an accuracy in terms of execution.
Kagiso Rabada was back to his best with match figures of 7/171 - and even as he completed his 39th over of the match, his pace was still in mid-140s. It was his aggression and need to be in a fight that proved instrumental in re-energising him. The standard has been set and now needs to be maintained over the next three Tests.
South Africa’s bowling as a whole was exceptional in this match said Du Plessis. Philander’s control in the first innings, Nortje’s aggression throughout, Pretorius’s nagging accuracy and on Monday Keshav Maharaj’s patience and skill.
The wicket of Ben Stokes was the vital moment on the fourth day. Du Plessis had brought on the left-arm spinner with 10 overs to go to the second new ball and England’s Headingley hero was after him immediately - a pull for four off the first ball was followed three deliveries later by a drive for four through the covers. Joe Root got in on the action by cutting the last ball of that first over for four.
“From behind the wicket we had a lot of confidence in Kesh. We kept saying that we felt that in the second innings, Kesh would get Stokes out...the way that Stokesy plays he is going to take the game on and we just had a gut feeling. You have to stay true to that, it’s not something you can measure over by over, you’ve got to stick with it. It was a massive wicket for us at that stage.”
It was like the air went out of England’s balloon as Stokes’ stumps were disturbed. The South Africans suddenly looked more chipper. The last six England wickets would fall for the addition of just 46 runs.
South Africa had won. It is a win that left some players with a lump in their throats. There is a smile again on the face of South African cricket.