In & Out: The luck of the draw

2014-08-03 15:00

Attempted ball-tampering, intermittent rains, trance-like Sri Lankan appeals and playing for the draw marked South Africa’s re-emergence as the top test team in the world.

In many respects, the Proteas test series win in Sri Lanka for the first time since the invention of many things we now take for granted – like Pentium processors, iPods and ergonomically designed ball-boxes – was an affirmation of Cricket SA’s appointment of Hashim Amla as the test captain.

One could imagine them being nervous at first, given Amla’s rejection of sponsorship from that great bastion of South African drunkenness that sees grown men wearing hollowed-out watermelons on their heads and shouting out expletives from the boundary ropes.

But in the end, Cricket SA’s decision made it clear we needed some calm at a time when phrases like “Hey! Stop being like the drunk guy at the cricket” have become common parlance in South African suburban life.

The Proteas’ rise also affirms their test team selection, a case of out with the old (Graeme Smith) and the very old (Jacques Kallis, who called it quits from all forms of international cricket this week to focus on selling high-end office furniture and hair plugs).

It’s half expected in South African sport for our heroes to come out of retirement (à la Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha) to save the day and show up the young guns, but – his form in the one-day matches against Sri Lanka notwithstanding – it doesn’t look as though King Kallis will need to intervene.

He comes from the alpha male school of going for the win – measuring his performance and hitting big at the right moments. He didn’t earn the nickname “king” for his imperious blocking ability.

But if Imran Tahir’s hair highlights anything, it’s that every dog has his day.

In an article this week titled “South Africa block their way to No. 1”, ESPN Cricinfo’s Siddarth Ravindran noted the South African batsmen “deadbatted virtually everything to hang on for the draw that they were seemingly aiming for since midway through the second day”.

He went on further to suggest the Sri Lankans were “undone by a team effort from South Africa, with not a single wicket going down to a rash stroke or a rush of blood”. It was a Proteas effort that also registered as their “slowest this century”, Ravindran added.

Even slower, of course, than that epic encounter that saw Faf du Plessis make his name in Australia by doggedly defending his wicket for 466 balls to score an unbeaten 110.

His resilience in that test was instrumental in helping South Africa draw the match and win the three-match series down under 1-0. It also secured Du Plessis’ spot in the team.

That test marked a turning point in South African five-day cricket, where drawing matches became de rigueur. No longer were players expected to win every match.

Granted, wins are required somewhere along the line, but as the No. 1 test team has demonstrated, sprinting to the finish line is not always necessary when a leisurely stroll would suffice.

In a way it also marked the triumph of the beta male in sports. And that’s something we should all be thankful for, because it gave way to the ascendance of a potentially great test captain in Amla.

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