Missing the boat and hitting boundaries

Graeme Pollock was never famous for his ability to run singles – except off the last ball of the over when he was going well and wanted to keep the strike. So I asked him whether he would have enjoyed playing T20 cricket, given the onus on quick singles: “Yes, I would, because the idea is to hit boundaries and I could do that quite well.” What a beauty.

The South African team arrived for the start of the match a good 15 minutes earlier than the Aussies to make sure they ‘bagged’ their favourite corner of the ground for warm-ups. The tourists had inadvertently set up their warm-ups in front of the Centenary Stand closest to the change-rooms, where the Proteas ‘always’ do their stuff. They succeeded but it didn’t help much, if the results of the day are anything to go by.

Neil Mac admitted he owed the team some runs after a lean time in Australia and reiterated that there was no better place in the world, and no better crowd, than the Wanderers when a big score was needed. Having admitted that Australia had ‘won’ the first day, and that a batsman is never ‘in’ on a Wanderers pitch like this, he was conceding how much of a mountain the Proteas have to climb. And that was before a ball was bowled.

Even if Neil Mac repeats something close to his nine-hour, match-saving century at Lord’s last July, you can’t help feeling that thunderstorms – and even some prolonged drizzle – will have to play it’s part in helping South Africa to make the game safe. The last time I said that was in Perth and several of the squad reminded me of the observation following the victory. But if the WACA pitch was a ‘road’ the Wanderers strip is more of a country footpath, full of potential ankle-twisters.

Marcus North was both a delight to watch and to speak to afterwards. Having been overlooked for a place in the squad for the Sydney Test at the end of the tour Down Under, the 29-year-old admitted to feeling that he’d “missed the boat” for a Test cap. “But it was worth the wait, every minute of it,” he said.

Statistically, South Africa have escaped from deeper holes than this. But, 381 runs behind with three key wickets lost and three days to play on a pitch offering seam movement and weather conditions likely to encourage swing for the rest of the match, this will require a greater effort than any other.
Once again, I say that because Graeme Smith and his team have become exceptionally proficient at making my predictions look like I’d plucked them from a bag of cheap, Chinese fortune cookies. They are welcome to do so again – but will need rain to remove around 70 overs from the game.

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