CARDIFF – Brilliantly, South Africa have dared to breathe life into the T20 series against England, as we head to a rousing finale in Cardiff on Sunday.
In the bigger picture, a T20 series will be naught but a footnote to the Tests and the Champions Trophy post-mortem.
And yet, on Friday night, as the last rites were being prepared by the Taunton town-crier, the tourists taunted fate and had the last laugh. Andile Phehlukwayo was entrusted with the final over, with 10 other players willing him to defend the 11 runs left.
He did, of course, and a change-room that had suffered much was lifted. “I still insist that we just played one bad game at the wrong time,” Man-of-the-Match Chris Morris said of the aborted Champions Trophy mission.
It feels like a long time already, but it is just a fortnight ago. A lot of water has passed under the Proteas’ bridge since then, but they have only played two games since then.
The first one, on Wednesday, was so meek that some may argue that South Africa didn’t participate. In Taunton, with national pride, personal ambition and collective character all on the line, they answered their captain’s call.
Morris sang De Villiers’ praises for the sense of calm he brought in those final, usually frenetic minutes.
Indeed, the most concerned that South Africa’s captain looked in the last hour was when he had to take a catch at an increasingly murky mid-off.
Eoin Morgan, the batsman ousted, later commented that it was the darkest conditions he’d ever played in. Morgan did win the toss, so he ought to have considered that a place with no lights may need a candle or two if things got tight.
England didn’t offer excuses; they simply cultivated defeat from the valley where wins reside.
It was bizarre, panicky, and all turned on the back of Jason Roy blocking traffic at the non-striker’s end. Morgan, without actually committing fully to it, admitted that there was enough there to send his opener on his way.
Members of the home press were enraged. “There are kids watching. Is this the example that we set them, to appeal for such things? Do we encourage them to throw at batsmen instead of stumps?”
It was a bizarre question, an emotional reaction to a practical change of the rules for those who change the course of their path back to the popping crease.
Morris, the man at the heart of the appeal, was absolutely certain, even long after the pantomime flames had died down. “You have to appeal. We’ll take anything to swing the game our way right now,” he admitted.
The Proteas took that and ran with it, Morris zoning on Liam Livingstone’s vulnerability and wrenching the momentum back South Africa’s way. Then young Dane Paterson and Phehlukwayo finished off what Morris and Morné Morkel had set up.
In years to come, both may look back on that Friday moment as a source of inspiration for bigger battles, with bigger stakes.
Any guesses? pic.twitter.com/F944Nratfo
Both their body language suggested an appetite for confrontation, which is precisely what the “death overs” are in T20 cricket. Morris was hearty in his praise for both of them. He was genuinely proud, and then spoke of the pride they all have in playing for their country.
Morris also touched on a chair that was empty in the change-room and the team bus. The team is currently without their coach, as Russell Domingo headed home urgently for a family emergency.
“Coach, this one’s for you,” Morris offered fiercely.
At a time when some of the rhetoric around the Proteas has headed towards doom, the Domingo family plight splashed a touch of perspective on proceedings.
You win or you lose a cricket game. The sun rises again, and you get another go.
The sun shone on the Proteas again in Taunton, and they will go to Cardiff on Sunday (3.30pm SA time start) hoping it shines on them once more.