The test series with England is all but over with only the final game at Centurion left and the pain of a humiliating defeat at the Wanderers still very fresh in the minds of the fans and the players no doubt.
The Durban test served to confirm that everything was not right with the Proteas after the India tour. Outplayed in just about every department the South Africans struggled to get runs, struggled to finish England off when they had them at 49/3 in the first innings and then capitulated in the fourth innings. Why we elected to field after winning the toss is something I still don’t understand. Why would anyone want to bat on day 4 or 5 in Durban chasing a score? England deservedly took the match by a massive 241 runs.
In Cape Town the fans were treated to some spectacular batting wickets. Both teams scored over 600 in their first innings. Most memorable will be the performance of Ben Stokes as he smashed 258, the fastest double ton (163 balls) and an England record for a number 6. South Africa chased hard and Hashim, still captain until the end of the game, scored another double ton and Themba Bavuma made history when he scored his first hundred for South Africa. The match came to life on the final day as England stumbled and South Africa almost made it into a contest.
Those in the know had us believe this match had put South Africa in the driving seat.
The news that Amla had resigned didn’t really shock us as many had called for him to step down as they claimed his batting had suffered. As if to justify their reasoning, we were told he must’ve decided to resign before his mammoth batting effort. The news that Dale Steyn wouldn’t be fit for the Wanderers was far more devastating.
The players enjoyed a short break as the teams moved up to the Highveld for the 3rd test and it was announced that SA would retain their squad and persist with Stiaan van Zyl in an openers berth. The voices grew louder for the inclusion of Stephen Cook and after the disastrous third day, in which 18 wickets tumbled, the selectors finally agreed to public opinion and added the 33 year old to the team.
There were some highlights in Johannesburg though. Kagiso Rabada took 5/78 in the first innings and contributed 40 runs in the match. Four months shy of his 21st birthday he is showing signs of being our next premier bowler. Hardus Viljoen made his test debut and bowled with venom, though unlikely to make the team if Steyn and Philander are fit, he is exciting to watch. Unfortunately, Joe Root and that man Stokes dominated proceedings at the Wanderers on day 2 with the bat yet again.
South Africa took advantage of gloomy conditions to bowl the English out on day 3 with 5 wickets before lunch. We were riveted to our seats in the hospitality lounge expecting some fireworks.
We got fireworks alright. Chris Broad took 6/17 including all of the top 5. The match and the series momentum had swung in one session.
South Africa were running a dodgy single with a torn hamstring on one leg and the other in a cast. The outlook was abysmal. At 45/6 we packed our things and decided to find something less painful to entertain us. The match in tatters and the series just about lost we trudged off to our waiting car and made our way home. A short journey but the wickets kept tumbling at a furious pace.
With only 73 required to seal the deal, the English smashed us off the park, psychologically.
Can Stephen Cook make an impression at Centurion? Will he even play? If he is in the squad surely he must play as we have not had a decent foundation in any innings for a while. Even in Cape Town we struggled first up.
Personally I have no issue with his age but it may count against him. If he is good for 2 or 3 or even 4 seasons then we should play him. If a youngster is coming through the ranks who might be able to challenge for the opening berth he’ll fill that gap until such a player is ready to step up to test cricket.
All we can hope for is a win at Centurion in a game that counts for nothing but pride.