JOHANNESBURG - Monday, blerrie Monday.
For most South Africans, Monday the 15th of January marked a return to reality – the real beginning to 2018. It showed in the crowd at Centurion, as the 12000-plus masses of the weekend dwindled to a cooler-box short of 5000.
It was decent, but it wasn’t quite the same. Heck, even the suppliers of the ice-cold draught cut back their supplies, to the significant chagrin of those who find inspiration from the amber nectar at around midday.
Everything was a little blue, and even the skies unleashed their back to work misery in the afternoon, drenching Centurion Park with a typical shower that halted an intriguing contest in its sodden tracks.
On the field, it was a “Back To School” special, with Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers producing some of their finest work, to the utter pleasure of the few thousands of students, pensioners, and those daring souls who pulled a sickie on the first day back at work.
Some of Kohli’s stuff belied the star power of the attack that confronted him. His footwork, balletic yet beautifully barbaric when it suited, turned length into full balls, as he willed weary bowlers into giving him what his willow wanted.
It was a 21st century in whites for the Indian skipper, and one of his very finest, considering the time, place and precarious nature of his team’s fortunes in the series. If there were any who doubted his pedigree, Kohli’s tenacity and appetite for a lot more than just three figures would have confirmed that he wants this series more than anything.
These things matter, because winning on the road is a rare thing amongst the top lot. Kohli’s predecessors marbled the path before him with a limitless bounty of legendary innings, but none came to Africa and tamed the beast that has big men hurling pride from 22 yards.
The only thing that stands in Kohli’s way, in this Test anyway, is a man very close to him in kinship and in sheer quality. “ABD”, as he is known by a billion and more in India, knows that he must match what Kohli did, if South Africa are to repel the tourists, and go to The Wanderers – where the grass ought to be infinitely greener – still with their noses in front.
De Villiers looked up for the scrap, even when he walked to the crease with his team in a state of famine at just three runs for two victims. He had to fight back, and he did just so, belying the delicate situation at hand.
Somewhere, between Cape Town and Calcutta, there would have been a billboard declaring that this entire series was a simply matter of “Virat vs ABD”. On Monday, miserably magical Monday, both men decided to step up simultaneously, and show once more why the world stops and delights when they are at the crease.
Of course, the bowlers cursed the subcontinental nature of the wicket. For Morne Morkel, who has been brought up on the hard, bouncy familiarity of Pretoria, the strip was more Nagpur than home.
“100%! There is a very subcontinental feel to it. It is tough scoring, and tough to get people out. Luckily we’ve got some experience of that (playing in India) in the bank. But they are not the conditions that we want here in South Africa,” the big man bemoaned.
On Tuesday morning, De Villiers will walk out and look to show that, like Kohli, his skill can manufacture runs, regardless of the conditions. Those Pretorians who have any excuse to get off work ought to join the scantily clad students on the banks, and watch another thrilling day under the sun.