A short while ago, on a pitch not too far away

CityPress - - Sport - Stu­art Long­bot­tom @Long­bot­tom_69 is an arm­chair cricket critic. He’s got noth­ing against the birds and wildlife of Four­ways, es­pe­cially when they flock to the Cape for the hol­i­days

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.

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