Second Test – Day 5: Moment please

Test cricket is a game of moments, which sounds absurd given that it lasts for five days. But the moments that turn a game pounce on the spectator, especially the unwary. This is what gives the game its fascination, what holds the audience attention. It’s an unfolding story and we have no idea where the author is taking us.
I learned this lesson as a young bloke at the MCG one sweltering day in the eighties when David Gower was swatting the Australian attack all over the park. The wind was gusting from the north, the sun was sucking the moisture out of our lips; even the seagulls were taking to the shade. A handy bowler called D.K. Lillee was being treated with the utmost disrespect on a pitch that was as lifeless as a supermarket tomato. It went on for hours. Gower was pulling and cutting boundaries almost every over. He made 100 with ease. It looked like he was on his way to 400.
But Lillee did what Lillee was famous for. He found something hidden in the pitch that no one else could. He got a ball to lift off a good length (or so I was later told). It jumped at Gower who gloved it to gully or fourth slip. When this happened I had my head down looking for the lid of a drink bottle under my seat. I missed it completely. THE moment. It was gone. The crowd went from studied silence to a raucous clamour in a flash. The game had changed. I found the lid to the drink bottle but it was of little consequence. Gower left the field with his head up and dignity intact. He knew he’d been done by a beauty.
Unfortunately in today’s cricket these moments are forensically studied before they are deemed suitable for public viewing. The Adelaide Test has been dotted with referrals which suck the life out of the moment. The tension leaves, the intrigue is diluted. An appeal simply puts in train a legal process about as appropriate in a cricketing context as mother-in-law jokes at a wedding. A bloke sitting in a room up in the grandstand, equipped with flawed technology, now decides the fate of the batsman and the fate of the game. It’s impersonal, tedious and futile, like studying a Monet masterpiece to see if he made any imperfect brush strokes.
And perhaps more importantly it doesn’t make the game fairer it simply changes its character. Cricket will never be “fair” in the true sense. It’s not meant to be.
Let the umpire decide. He’s the bloke standing at the top of the pitch in the black pants and white shirt. He usually has a hat on because cricket is played in the sun not in the grandstand. He’s in the best position to make the call; close to the action, impartial, experienced, and knowledgeable in the rules of the game. One ball, one decision; the umpire’s decision. And it’s final.
Barry Richards put it well.
“The referral is a misguided attempt to make an imperfect game, perfect.” What he seems to be
really saying is, leave the human element in the game. Cricket neither needs to be faultless nor
should it seek to be. It is a game that celebrates human frailty not snick-o-metres and hot spots.

There is an argument that the referral system actually creates tension and to a degree it does. The
display of the evidence, the repetitive slow mo replays. Did he snick it? What does hot spot tell us?
Did the ball touch the glove on the way through? But it misses the point. The tension in Test cricket
is excruciating, not transitory. We can agonise over each ball of each over for hours; waiting,
watching, observing the physical and psychological battle. Itching for the moment to arrive; the
game changer. If you’re looking for instant gratification switch over to “Deal or No Deal”, don’t
watch Test cricket.

However, despite these interruptions to the flow, the Adelaide Test has been an absorbing contest.
The South Africans’ lack of depth has been tested and come up short. They have no replacement for
Jacques Kallis. He doesn’t just leave one hole in the team, he leaves three; batting, bowling and grit.
At the start of day five they’re 4 for 77 and teetering, chasing an improbable 430.

Ponting is also teetering; hovering on the edge of his career. It almost seems irreverent to be
suggesting that he goes but father time has finally caught him up. He’ll dart about in the field as the
Aussies pursue the South Africans on day five, throwing at the stumps, leaping to save boundaries.
He still reminds me of a kid on the first day of cricket practice, even at 37 years of age. But the split
second between a master batsman and a mortal one has deserted him. We’ll miss him when he’s
gone.

The key to day five could be Nathan Lyon. I admire Lyon. He’s a battler but he’s composed, he
makes the most of his abilities, and he’s improving all the time. He needs to make day five his own.
But I’m baffled at how the South African batsmen have handled him thus far. Their chosen strategy
is largely to play him from the cease with minimal footwork. Surely the batsmen need to get down
the track to him.

The Boers dig in early. And dig, and dig, and dig. There are oohs and aahhs but their bats are too
wide. Siddle tries everything except an underarm, and Michael Clarke tries to tweek one out. He’s
almost successful. Faf du Plessis, whose name would suit an upmarket male fashion label, is given
out twice by the human umpire in the first session but the review system reprieves him both times.
At lunch the Africans have added just 49 runs but haven’t lost a wicket.

I still feel that a rush is coming. One wicket could bring about a clatter. It’s been that sort of test.
After lunch the grind continues.

Then it comes; the game changer. Or the probable game changer. Siddle forces De Villiers into
no-man’s land. His feet are neither here nor there. The prod of the bat catches the inside edge and
the stumps are disturbed. Siddle is the quintessential workhorse; the sort of bloke who could plough
a whole potato field without a bullock. The De Villiers wicket is a victory for persistence. South Africa
is 5 for 133.

Kallis limps to the crease favouring his gluteus maximus. Maximus being the appropriate word. He’s
a big unit. He looks like he was bred to bring down wild lions on the African savannah. He and Faf
stand between Australia and a tough victory. And they erect a formidable wall of defence. At tea he
has lurched to 38 and du Plessis is 94. The Proteas are 5 for 212. It is a remarkable effort but not
completely surprising. Doggedness and resolution are part of the South African DNA.

Disappointingly Nathan Lyon hasn’t been able to seize the day – thus far anyway. His spin finger
probably looks like it’s been through a meat mincer. What Clarke would give to have Pattinson on
the ground. Or Warnie on the ground! But the game still hangs by a thread; perhaps a wicket away
from a cliff hanger finish. Lyon needs to temper his attack. He seems more intent on simply getting
through the overs. Time is becoming a factor.

The clock ticks, the overs disappear. The Proteas can almost smell the end. Hilfenhaus has Faf and
Kallis guessing a bit. Faf is approaching an audacious hundred. Strangely I’m hoping he makes it. It’s
not helping him that Kallis’ strained gluteous maximus can’t cope with a quick single. If his hammy
goes it will probably sound like a fan belt snapping. Poor old Faf has crawled through the nineties
with the same fanfare as Depeche Mode. But after facing 310 balls Faf finally hits one through the
covers and reaches the milestone. Extraordinary effort for a bloke in his first Test. But he looks like a
seasoned cricketer. He’s obviously done a sturdy apprenticeship.

Out of nowhere Lyon gets one to jump. Kallis pops it up to bat-pad and walks (or hobbles). He doesn’t wait for any of the review nonsense. He’s a tough old style cricketer who knows when he’s out. The human umpire raises a finger. The Aussies circle the new batsman Steyn and go in for the kill. Suddenly they’re bowling hand grenades. They have 17 overs to take the last four wickets. It’s gripping stuff. Testing cricket.

Steyn survives the difficult balls but holes out on a full toss. Pressure. Instinct takes over and fails him. He sees a ball to belt but neither swings at it nor blocks it. The shot is an in between nine iron chip – straight to Quiney.

Clarke asks his workhorse to pull the game out of the fire. Siddle is up for it, despite the fact that he has bowled about a thousand overs. With 13 minutes to go he musters up a brilliant high speed yorker on middle stump and knocks over Kleinveldt. This is stirring stuff. Then he bends over exhausted and tries not to vomit. He’s spent.

Siddle and Lyon search desperately for the wicket taker but can’t prevail. The bean pole Morne Morkel, and the staunch Faf du Plessis get the South Africans the draw. Faf’s 110 not out is outstanding. Shades of Mark Greatbatch’s stone walling effort for the Kiwis in 1989 when he occupied the crease for 14 hours.

In Test cricket the notion of a draw can be disconcerting. Australia still had the game for the taking deep into the last over. The scoreboard says neither side won, but it was the Proteas who were celebrating. At 4 for 45 the previous afternoon they looked shot. To hang on through the entire fifth day was valiant and bold indeed. The Aussies will need to pick themselves up for Perth. Siddle will probably live in an ice bath for the next three days.

One can only wonder how captivating this series may have been were it played across five Tests.

Votes
Faf 3
Ginger Meggs 2
Lara’s Ex 1

About Damian O'Donnell

OK - which is the odd one out: Love the Cats and flannelette shirts, especially in winter. I get on extremely well with red wine. We just seem to hit it off. Love horse racing in Spring. Used to love cricket. Go to Stawell every Easter and contemplate life around the fire. Love water skiing, especially in summer. Love a great oil painting. Will read most things put in front of me. Thought 'The Sorpranos' was the best TV show ever made - by miles. Run an accounting practice in Melbourne's suburbs.

Comments

  1. Well played, Dips.

  2. Thanks for the report, Dips. It was an excellent match.
    Test cricket has no peer.

    By the way, I thought “Faf du Plassis” WAS an upmarket male fashion label!
    Shows what I know about fashion.
    Seriously, he looks the goods.

  3. Peter Schumacher says:

    And yet again, why only three tests? Bloody nonsense that there aren’t five.

  4. Peter Schumacher says:

    Sorry, should have written “Tests”!

  5. Remember that game against the Kee Weis last century when they hung around all the last day to draw. Greatbatch had a great match.

    I am getting sick of agreeing with you Dips. But……………… you are right, the telly commentary is crap. I find the techno explaination an insult to my ( albeit limited) intelligence and the matter of a pack of has beens trying to give the impression that two nations are actually at war and the result matters is just plain dumb.

    I didn’t bother with the last bit. I was finishing off the book “The Book Thief” that I was engrossed in instead of watching cricket over the weekend. That was real war.

    The fifty million slo-mos and opinions degrade the integrity of the game. When I listen on Aunty I find that the game is as it always was and always should be.

  6. Apart from the New South Wales ‘common taters.’

  7. Phanto – I’m off to the Murray marathon over Christmas (canoes and kayaks paddling from Echuca to Swan Hill). I’m taking two books with me – Paul Ham’s “Sandakan” and Neil Young’s “Waging Heavy Peace”. Looking forward to it.

    I’m sure we can find something to disagree about – if we try really hard.

  8. I don’t agree Dips.

  9. Spot on, Dips. It’s a travesty that these two teams have not played a five-Test series since SA were re-admitted.

    I like Barry Richards’ comment too. I can’t wait until he brings out his next autobiography. I’m hoping he titles it, “Never Mind the Pollocks…”

  10. Jeff Dowsing says:

    I have a bad feeling the Saffers will be invigorated by this, just as we’re feeling flat wondering what the hell we have to do to get the job done.

    Unbelievable debut and one of the great Test innings by Francois du Plessis. But how long would he last on a Frankston bus I wonder?

    btw, I liked your Depeche Mode analogy Dips.

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