It’s five minutes before the start of play on day five of the Wanderers test and the tension is at its greatest. Not the most obvious time to record some thoughts on the day’s play. In a few hours’ time, they will be obsolete. But maybe not.
To reach the fifth day of a test match with all four results still theoretically possible happens all too rarely. The opportunity to play an innings which will be remembered for many, many years also does not present itself more than half a dozen times in most batsmen’s careers.
I don’t believe South Africa have a chance of winning – but I can’t be absolutely certain. What if Alviro Petersen and Faf du Plessis bat until tea allowing AB de Villiers to launch an attack the like of which only he is capable. You can’t be sure of much in this game. That’s why we love it.
Du Plessis has already experienced the profound satisfaction of saving a test match which seemed beyond hopelessly lost. South Africa were 45-4 on the fourth afternoon and 76-4 at the close of play. It was impossible to hope the test would be saved on the fifth morning in Adelaide, let alone believe that it would be.
Yet Du Plessis was still there at the close of play, gaunt with dehydration but glowing with a profound sense of pride, a feeling so strong it will still be putting a smile on his face in 50 years’ time. And ours. De Villiers, by the way, scored just 30-odd runs from 220 balls in four and half hours at the crease.
Perhaps that was the reason Faf was sent in at No 4 on Saturday evening. Not only is he the designated ball polisher, he’s also the designated match-saver!
Whereas South African teams in years gone by have learned lessons from history and accepted what is possible and what is not, the current squad has a different attitude. It started with Mickey Arthur’s team in 2008 when they saved the Lord’s test which had seemed all but impossible.
Six months later they chased 414 in Perth, another ‘impossibility’. But that was nothing compared to the feat of winning the Boxing Day test in Melbourne from an absurdly hopeless situation.
A decade ago I would have been sitting in the commentary box wondering what time the last wicket would fall. Sure, Mike Atherton saved a test match here by batting for over ten hours in the final innings but that was the exception which proves the rule. I would never have believed this test would be saved.
But things are different now. Gradually but certainly I have come to expect the impossible from this team. The odds are stacked against them, but there’s a queue of batsmen prepared to be the hero today. Faf and AB again? What a story it would be if Jacques Kallis returned to form…
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