History has wearily taught us that squeaky bum-time means cry-time for South African cricket followers, because the rub of the green is automatically set against the men in green. Supposedly, that rub goes fine with pink, though.
When AB de Villiers was run out, in the melting pot of Friday’s fourth one-day international against England at The Wanderers, hope was snuffed out with him. That’s how much the South African skipper matters in these things. Here we go, the masses thought.
It is to the immense credit of Chris Morris, as well as Farhaan Behardien and David Wiese, that there was no panic when the familiar heroes fell. Much like England had when they slipped to 108/6 earlier, South Africa’s late middle-order simply dug in, and waited for the tide to turn.
“We knew he had it in him to do something like that,” De Villiers said of his match-winner, deep into Friday night.
There was no panic, not out in the middle, anyway. They just kept chipping away at the target, even as wickets fell. Wiese replaced Behardien, and then Kyle Abbott picked up the slack, to take the match deep. Of course, that set the stage for merry Morris to go absolutely mental. It was a throwback to the good ol’ days when South Africa batted right down, to the point where the opposition didn’t quite know when a game was safe.
The Proteas will know they have momentum now, and not the regular kind, either. The win at Centurion on Tuesday was clinical, precise, with no question. Any of the world’s best sides can have days when an innings just clicks.
But Friday night was important because it reminded South Africa, and its notoriously sceptical audience, that they can still burgle a win. It also reminded them that not all is necessarily lost when their superstars depart the stage.
For self-belief, The Wanderers was terrifically timely. There is a T20 World Cup around the corner, which will need every man in the side to be a potential match-winner. There is little doubt a few lurk for South Africa at the top of the order, and there are a couple with the ball as well. But their soft centre was a serious bone of contention when their T20 World Cup squad was named. Where is the match-winning all-rounder, the nation asked? Where is the finisher?
“Our guys have thrown a million balls to me and in the end it has to pay off. Fortunately it was my turn to showthat I am pushing for that all-rounder spot. I’m just happy to be playing cricket,” Morris smiled.
He surely put his hand up, but it may well be someone else who does so today, in the decider at Newlands. But what Friday gave the Proteas is the belief they can go to the wire, and emerge on the right side.
England, having lost two matches on the trot after such a rich harvest this summer, will be looking to rekindle the happy memories of the New Year’s Test. Expect the rampant Joe Root to figure, and don’t be surpised if Ben Stokes and Joss Buttler rouse themselves once more.
The mountain seems to have that effect on maniacs. Ditto for De Villiers, of course, because he looked pretty potent in pink again, before he perished prematurely. At some point, someone is going to catch a fat klap from the skipper.
And so, thanks to the intervention of the million-dollar man Morris, today’s final rubber at Newlands is not just another date to be fulfilled on the fixture list. The thousands who will write off the day of lovers to lay about on the grass banks, quaffing beers, chomping prawns and those many other cheeky delights that the culinary shacks of Newlands rustle up, will do so while sampling a game that actually matters.
We’ve got Mr Morris to thank for that.
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt), JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, David Wiese, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Imran Tahir
England: Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan (capt), Joss Buttler (wk), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, Reece Topley
– THE SUNDAY INDEPENDENT
Original source: Lure of lovers’ day series decider