A short while ago, on a pitch not too far away
The timing of my return to these pages for 2016 seems rather odd.
This because, firstly, it would appear that, since my last column, so much yet so little has happened (a lot like Star Wars, I guess), and secondly because, as you read this, we find ourselves already balls deep in the third test of the four-match series between South Africa and England, with the former trailing the series 0-1.
To recap, there was much trouble in the galaxy for the Proteas after their complete failure in India in November. Even though they went into the series against the Poms last month with great expectation and hope, your despondency after their 241-run defeat in the Boxing Day test in Durban wouldn’t have been completely unfounded.
As the carnage continued to unfold well into the second day of the New Year’s test at Newlands, I cast an eye on my social media feed.
“The English haven’t treated us with this much disdain since Scorched Earth,” came one blithe remark. For almost two blistering days against the backdrop of Table Mountain, it seemed as though the English would have their way with the Proteas yet again. But up stepped (now former) captain Hashim Amla, resolute for almost 12 hours at the crease to anchor the innings, backed up by rock-steady knocks from Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, then followed by Temba Bavuma, who emphatically cemented his place in the team, and the record books, by sealing the draw in true Proteas fashion.
Nevertheless, that second test turned out to be a lot like Cape Town itself: pretty to look at, but pretty boring; not going anywhere, like a boozy flirtation with a woman on Kloof Street – who, four beers in, suddenly becomes shockingly beautiful – only to find out she’s from an enclave in Fourways called Cedar Lakes Lifestyle Estate.
And with that, you realise playing on the highveld presents an entirely different prospect – looser, more open-ended, a little rough around the edges even, and certainly good for an afternoon’s entertainment.
Given that conditions for the last two matches of the series, at the Wanderers then at Centurion, are theoretically more favourable for South Africa, whether they are capable of either salvaging or winning the series remains to be seen. This as structural fault lines in the team around captaincy, form, injuries and, of course, the De Kock-up behind the stumps, have started to become more apparent.
AB has been waiting for the reins to the test sled for years, and now he has his chance to prove he’s more than, dare I say, the best stroker in the game. However sad it might be to see Captain Cool give up his seat at the helm, it’s reassuring, I suppose, to have someone of De Villiers’ calibre as a willing replacement, even if he’s being coy about committing his future to the role, or to the game for that matter, if his recent utterings to the press are anything to go by.
Whatever happens over the next couple of days in the test currently under way at the Wanderers, the Proteas will do well to play by Han Solo’s dictum, “Never tell me the odds!” because, right now, they don’t look so good going into what will hopefully be the decider at Centurion.