SA ready to risk it all

2010-01-14 00:00

DEFEAT is not easily palatable for South Africans, and thus the current Test series against England has provided most fans with a sustained bout of indigestion.

Indeed, it has been hard to stomach two last-gasp draws against an in-form albeit limited unit of tourists who are hellbent on proving their critics wrong.

Today marks the start of the final Test of a series that has somehow stayed at 1-0, despite producing some of the most enthralling Test cricket seen on these shores.

It has been competitive, but it has yet to boil over. The small matter of ball-tampering threatened to divide the sides, but most scribes were more content with focusing on South Africa’s inability to gobble up the English tail, onions and all.

Don’t be surprised if sparks fly in the city of gold, though.

The Proteas will look back on this series as the one that got away, for rarely has a team had so little to show for so much endeavour.

But they will have a good deal more grace if they are at least reflecting on a shared series, instead of losing to a team that only out-performed them on just one fateful day in Durban.

The fourth day at Kingsmead was the day this series veered extraordinarily off the attritional straight and narrow, as the Proteas’ fell to 50 for 6.

They never recovered, and it is that one session that may yet decide this series.

England seized their moment, and have hung on grimly to their slender lead.

The odds are stacked against South Africa, with bad weather hovering over the Bullring like an oversized umbrella over a little old lady.

South Africa’s true home of cricket will certainly be no place for meek and mild meisies though, as the Proteas have promised to throw everything at the Poms in a bid to at least level the series.

Let down by their “spinner” Paul Harris, the South African brains trust have had a word with the Wanderers curator, and we may yet see more green on this morning’s wicket than on the 2010 World Cup pitches.

If it’s life in the wicket that the Proteas want, they would do well to remember that they will have to bear the brunt of an English attack, which has been much more dangerous over the course of the series.

Indeed, the last “sporting wicket” that these two sides did battle on saw England reduced to 2 for 4, with Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock running riot.

The toss will thus take on huge importance, and the Proteas bold and desperate plan of producing a wicket with wickets in mind may yet backfire spectacularly.

England have spoken bravely about going after a 2-0 win. That is highly unlikely, though, and they will happily watch the rain fall for five days if they have to.

They have deserved their lead, if only for the fact that they have looked more likely to take wickets even in flat conditions.

The Proteas will have to take risks — not something that they do with too much comfort — and they will also have to trust the instincts of their captain, Graeme Smith.

He proved that he can change the tempo of a match in Cape Town, but — not for the first time — his efforts were not matched by the rest of the team.

South Africa’s dismal run of one win in seven Tests has really hurt Smith, because he was one of the loudest prophets of a brave new era of Proteas blooming in the world of Test cricket.

The pride of South African cricket has been severely dented, but they can still save it with a roaring finish this week. This talented side has gone steadily backwards for a year now, and they will want to start the long climb back to the summit in earnest this week.

If you happen to enjoy a bit of no-holds barred combat, this may be just up your street. If the match is in the balance come the final day, do not be surprised to see all manner of handbags being swung around by young men in whites.

South Africa hate losing, especially to the old enemy. Equally, this correspondent absolutely detests having to be the bearer of grim tales.

So for everyone’s sake, let’s hope the Proteas give us something to really cheer about.

It’s about blerrie time, too.

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