Cape Town – It was a long time in coming, but when it did it packed a surprisingly hefty punch.
The South African cricket team finally earned a victory over the touring England cricketers in a game of consequence at the sixth attempt this summer on Tuesday, dismantling them by seven wickets with 22 deliveries to spare in the third one-day international at Centurion.
I mention “consequence” because as well as they played in the fourth and final Test of the surrendered five-day series, the Proteas nevertheless won a dead-rubber fixture, and we know from past experience that the motivation on such occasions is different – to put it tactfully – for the mentally (and possibly even medically) hung-over side already safely in possession of the series spoils.
But by producing such an irresistibly powerful performance with the bat at SuperSport Park in the day/night ODI, AB de Villiers’s outfit finally gave the visitors a “proper” taste of defeat, if you like, and simultaneously served notice that they still have a stab at salvaging the 50-overs bragging rights.
It is 2-1 to England with two to play – Wanderers on Friday and Newlands on Sunday – and the home nation will enjoy the fact that they stay on the fast-and-furious Highveld for the first part of the remaining task, which is to square things up ahead of the flight down to the Mother City.
The Bullring portents are fairly healthy for the Proteas, not only given that it is another “Pink Day” in support of cancer awareness – their record in that gear is a 100 percent one – but that they have won all of their last three ODIs at the intimidating stadium and by fairly wide margins.
There is also the chance that a few England players who had also been present for the earlier Test combat may be starting to feel early symptoms of homesickness after Tuesday’s missed opportunity to put the series to bed surprisingly early.
South Africa, by contrast, can just begin to dream – though they remain the dark horses from here – of repeating a phenomenon last savoured by the country back in 2003/04 in Pakistan: coming from 0-2 down to steal a five-match ODI series 3-2.
It remains a formidable ask against foes who have dominated them for several weeks, but at least for the next couple of days the Proteas squad and management can breathe a sigh of relief and bask in the afterglow of their clear-cut Centurion mastery.
Oh we of little faith: I may not be the only critic to have been left surprised and cynical by the expansive width of the smiles on the SA team’s faces even as they left the field having seen the English amass another bulky total well above 300.
A score of such weight, after all, had never previously been chased down successfully at the venue, and considering the widespread suffering England have inflicted on this tour so far, such bullishness seemed misplaced, cocky and ill-advised.
But as De Villiers enthused afterwards, his XI crammed with home-town knowledge -- in the shape of extremely generous Titans representation – had been adamant that 300-plus was gettable on a surface known to “skid on” usefully once the sun has disappeared.
They confirmed that theory, and then some.
Defeat was only going to be a 10 or 20 percent likelihood after a quite dazzling opening alliance of 239 in just short of 37 overs by long-serving maestro Hashim Amla (127) and booming young gun Quinton de Kock (135), who is looking more and more like some sort of modern left-handed equivalent to Barry Richards for pure genius, audacity and fearlessness at the top of the order.
The stand shook England to their foundations – as you might expect seeing that it became the eighth highest for the first wicket of all time in ODIs and 24th best in the hall of fame for any wicket.
It was Shrove Tuesday – pancake day – and an English attack that we have previously seen is emphatically not ... OK, crepe? ... found methods to stem the flow of runs desperately hard to come by; it was as if the boot had swiftly transferred to the other foot after a long period of South African discomfort in that department.
One win doesn’t cure all ills: South Africa retain problems in team balance, tactical wisdom at times and certain questionable individual selections.
But this one was a stunner, a shot in the arm of some substance for them.
Now can they build on it in Johannesburg?
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