It doesn’t take much to understand that 4/123 is further from 397 than Centurion is from Marrakech. Coach2.0’s demeanour this morning had not changed from the easy parting of the evening before. Yet the mood has changed to be more like a rehearsal for opening night in a School play than the informality of a street party. Everyone is just a little more on edge – even The Prof stopped grinning when he sprinkled salt onto his muesli pond this morning.
We have not been in a position where the prospect of rain seems more welcome, and the prospect of playing for victory less certain, since Old Trafford in early August 2013. It is as unsettling as the first brush strokes of an incoming storm.
Coach2.0’s Yoda-like veneer shelters an improbable truth that this team is riding its luck on an old horse called Guile, gripping the reins of Fortune in one hand, and Fear in the other. This is a team at the start of a transition not at the end of it. Fortune is an unruly companion that has more faces than a weathercock, and Fear a traitor as likely to offer an olive branch in daylight as the glint of a dagger at night. When Guile has spent itself, when Fortune shifts it’s weight and Fear blunts itself, how shall it end?
Coach2.0 painted the picture of success at the team meeting this morning. “Bat long, bat once”, he admonished the batsmen. He said 350 would be a passable score. The Captain had a few kind words for Puff, night watchman Plopper, and the lower orders yet to bat. It was as difficult for him, and those already out, to offer support as it is for a weatherman to offer advice about weather. It is easier to put on a grin, change the subject, or accept a dollar from a pauper than it is to accept batting advice these days from a top order batsman.
The Prof and I found Trapper and Wicky in the back of the dressing-room shortly after play resumed this morning. They were playing snap to decide who would score a miracle century. Trapper said it wasn’t his turn. Wicky said he had a continuous turn during the Ashes. They went to consult The Captain who said that everyone would get another turn in the second innings, although it would be better to score freely today than roll the dice later on a fourth day pitch.
It was clear by lunch that achieving 300 was less likely than delivering the National Broadband Network and somewhat more likely than finding a moonstone in Broken Hill. Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell undid us with FEAR and a few helmet bashing bouncers. But for a brace of dropped ‘Pakistani-like’ catches we would have collapsed for 180, rather than 247.
The Captain said little at the change of innings. He was busy replying to Biff’s texts.
“Would you like the name of our helmet maker?”
“No. The name of your weatherman would be helpful”, The Captain replied.
“I’d be more worried about our top 6. When was the last time you scored 400 to win a test at PE?”
“I know you hate slow pitches. Can you bat for more than 55 overs”
“I hate losing more than slow pitches.”
“Losing by 177 will hurt.”
“Who is the pitch doctor in Cape town?”
Biff didn’t reply.
Orlando Bloom (Placido Domingo’s friend) and Coach2.0 were inspecting each other from afar through binoculars looking for the slightest blink or pressure twitch. Nothing. Orlando thought Coach2.0 had caught too much sun. Coach2.0 is still wondering who Orlando is. We are like armed camps. In the end, a fly crawled up Coach2.0’s nose, Sarah (the girl from marketing) held up a an index finger on an advertisers storyboard, her counterpart turned a rising thumb upside down, and the Umpire called the players onto the field.
Play was delayed while Biff waited for the brass band to belt out the SA National Anthem. The Captain tried a little sledge but it backfired. He doesnt want to break anyone’s arm. He hates sledging anyway. He wished Hollywood was on the field. He knows how to sledge when the stump mic is on.
When play did start, Biff belted the first ball for 4. Tatts removed him shortly afterwards. That was the best of it. Amla is cruising to a century and we have bowled more overs than in any match for a long time. The Natural says his knee aches. And we have not won a test in which Tatts has played where he has not taken 6 wickets.
The only consolation was dismissing AB for 29, his first score below 30 in a long time, and watching the pitch play truer than it has all game.
The Prof said he found the salt culprits. He replaced their deodorants with capsicum spray. I didn’t tell him Hollywood and Trapper changed rooms with The Freak and Coach2.0 before breakfast.
When SA declares, as they will, how shall we respond if we are 400 behind? The pitch will hold under the heavy roller. Are we good enough to win or will the forecast storm paper over the cracks of transition and salvage a draw? Old Trafford in reverse?
SA 423 & 4/192. Australia 246 (SA lead 369)