Peculiar as this may sound, it can be harder for the strong teams to play the weak than the strong.
When a boxer enters the ring with an opponent capable of knocking him out with the right punch at any moment, he focuses all his energy on protecting himself and looking for his own knockout punch. He isn’t concerned with tripping over his own feet and stumbling over the ropes.
The West Indies have been pitiful so far, a clear demonstration of how far the game has declined in the Caribbean. They have shown nothing with bat or ball to make anyone believe they can even be a concern to Hashim Amla’s team, never mind become competitive or mount a challenge.
In such circumstances, the dominant team understandably looks at itself more closely than usual. After all, their only potential problems will come from within. Complacency and over-confidence become the enemies rather than the opposing team.
South African teams have paid the price in the past for making assumptions and taking results for granted, which is why this one has, by and large, stepped carefully around the tourists.
Even the brilliant, dominant 308-run partnership between Amla and AB de Villiers at Centurion rarely moved beyond fourth gear. It was like two kids given a whole day to pick their very favourite sweets from a candy store. There was no rush – the only thing that could possibly go wrong was accidentally selecting a packet of sour worms, and not liking them.
It was Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis’ turn to visit the sweet shop on the first day at St.George’s. It has never been a fast scoring ground, a revamped bowling attack produced far more discipline and control than it managed a week earlier and the pitch was a little two-paced – all genuine factors in mitigation of a slow scoring rate. But nonetheless, it was obvious to even the most casual visitor that they were playing within themselves. It was their turn, and they were NOT going to pick out a packet a sour worms.
The sight of Billy Bowden and Paul Reiffel casually tossing a bail to decide who would get first choice of ends before the test started summed up the atmosphere. Yes, it is the purest form of the game and an occasion not to be taken lightly or trivialised. But that’s exactly the point – it is an ‘occasion’ rather than a competition.
A crowd of 8000+ did credit to the embattled Eastern Province Cricket organisation which has worked so hard to make the Boxing Day test work. They deserve their success. All we need now, apart from good weather, is for the tourists to put up a fight.
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