Proteas attempt to keep the demons at bay
PRETORIA – Asked if anyone in the South African dressing room had, at the end of the third day, mentioned the series loss against Sri Lanka earlier this year, Anrich Nortje gave a firm, “no.”
But those demons will be in the South African players’ heads, they’re not robots. In the opposition ranks there’s Ben Stokes, whose fourth innings heroics against Australia at Headingley in August, competed with Kusal Perera’s in Durban in February for the best Test knock of 2019.
South Africa has lost its last five Tests, and forgetting how to win is a problem too. Should the Proteas not get a breakthrough in the first session on Sunday, those demons will come and sit right on their shoulders.
Saturday had been a good day for the Proteas and Nortje. They built a lead of 376, a target that Vernon PHilander said the night before should put them in the safe zone. And to be fair, they still hold a number of cards – Keshav Maharaj’s left-arm spin took one wicket and created a couple of other chances, while the odd ball was still misbehaving off a length at the West Lane End. There’s also a second new ball available after lunch.
But, those demons.
This has been a good Test match for Nortje, he followed up his two wickets in England’s first innings with a courageous innings of 40, surving a barrage of bouncers, one of which from Stuart Broad smashed into his ribcage.
“I just tried to focus on every over. For me the challenge was just trying to stay in every over, trying to be there the next over, then the next one then the next one, until lunch. (Getting to 50) did cross my mind somewhere but I just told myself to try and focus on this over.”
He shared a partnership of 91 for the fifth wicket with Rassie van der Dussen, who made 50, but England have knocked off 121 of the required runs and still have nine wickets in hand.
Nortje said discipline would be vital on Sunday. “It’s about sticking to what we do best, keeping the run rate down, building as much pressure as we can and then from there on try to take the wickets.”
That’s a simple plan, one that should hopefully keep the demons at bay.