Cape Town Test, Day Four: Hard Pounding, Gentlemen

There is a temptation to get bored with repeatedly pointing out to the ECB that if this was a four day Test, England would have had to pull out much earlier to try to force a win, and that we would probably be talking about a drawn game right now.  It is a temptation that should be resisted, for the fact that this match is going to go deep into the fifth day, or even finish as a draw is something they don’t want to hear, and will swiftly ignore in favour of their ludicrous plans to hamstring Test cricket once memories of this game have started to fade.  Technically, all results remain possible, and while a South African win appears to be the wildest of fantasies, that is hardly the point – this match is going to go more or less the distance, with the result uncertain.

There is not a single person currently uninterested in this game who would be more interested had there been one day fewer, and a hell of a lot of people who are interested who would be deeply frustrated this evening had this been the bastardised version of Test cricket the governing bodies, the guardians of the game, wish to see.  Never let them forget it, never stop reminding them how their plans have absolutely nothing to do with the health of the sport and everything to do with the health of their bank balances.  Banging on about the same subject is tiresome, but they are hoping for that ennui, that fatigue to be the predominant response.

Going into the fifth day tomorrow, England require 8 more wickets after a dominant first half of the play, and a fine rearguard from South Africa in the second.  If the abiding individual curiosity at the start of play was whether Dominic Sibley would reach his maiden Test century, no one told Ben Stokes, who launched a furious assault from the start, largely but not exclusively against Keshav Maharaj.  Three sixes, including one quite glorious punch back over Dwaine Pretorius’ head took all the pressure off Sibley, who was able to cruise fairly serenely to his century as Stokes smashed his way to 72 off 47 balls.  If his dismissal was a disappointment, the rest of the middle order attempted to maintain the impetus.  Buttler made only 23, but in the circumstances his score was less important than the rate of scoring, and Sibley himself began to up the ante as England closed in on a declaration.

One hundred doesn’t a Test player make, but nor should it be overlooked in a side where centuries have been somewhat rare in recent times.  Sibley might look awkward in his stance, but he played with discipline and to his strengths.  There have been enough players over the years with slightly awkward approaches who have been successful to not discount what he is trying to do, and if he maximises his returns through batting this way, then along with Rory Burns (this could be the crabbiest opening pair England have had in years) England might just have an opening partnership worthy of the name.  Certainly his innings of 133 in 313 balls represents one of the longest innings by anyone not called Cook in several years, and in a side crying out for permanence at the crease, this is welcome in itself.

England’s batting was placed slightly into context by the relative ease with which South Africa batted in their long haul to try and save the game.  While not totally discounting a freak outcome , a world record target of 438 is implausible to say the least, barring Stokes/Perrera levels of ridiculousness tomorrow.  It’s a world record for a reason.  The pitch didn’t remotely misbehave, with debate surrounding whether the ball did more in the sunshine than when cloudy, suggesting that general levels of utter cluelessness amongst absolutely everyone as to why the ball behaves as it does is just as strong in 2020 as all previous years.  Maybe there’s something in it, and if so, England will be pleased as the forecast for tomorrow is to be hot and sunny.

In trying to save a match, every team has at least one player felt to be the one needed to bat long in order to have a chance, and it’s not being too presumptuous to assume that South Africans would have felt that Dean Elgar was that man.  He looked entirely at ease against everyone except, surprisingly, Joe Denly, whose part-time legspin extracted some often vicious turn and bounce from outside the left hander’s off stump.  His dismissal was mildly controversial, England’s appeal for a catch behind being upheld, and on review the tiniest, less than conclusive squiggle appearing on snicko.  If Elgar had been given not out, you’d imagine there was insufficient grounds to overturn him, but he was and so the same principle applied, and realistically there was no other decision the third umpire could have made – which isn’t to say conclusively that he hit it.

It was Pieter Malan who instead became the wall England spent their day trying to breach, without success.  On debut, he batted beautifully, defensively, and rarely appeared troubled at all.  Only the late wicket of Zubayr Hamza gave England cause for celebration, and with 56 overs gone, but the ball just starting to reverse, they were fairly slim pickings in 56 overs.

England will have a second new ball to come, they certainly haven’t bowled poorly, and they continue to have a great chance of squaring the series.  But it hasn’t been easy, and as the man said, we will have to see who will pound longest.


26 thoughts on “Cape Town Test, Day Four: Hard Pounding, Gentlemen

  1. Marek Jan 6, 2020 / 8:25 pm

    …although for those of a certain age, setting the opposition 438 to win might just mean that we’re in for a close finish! A very close finish….


    • Marek Jan 7, 2020 / 3:59 pm

      Are we thinking of the same 438? The one I was thinking of still had all four results possible two balls from the end–which (I’ve just checked) was the 479th of the match. At one stage the chasing team was 366-1…


      • thelegglance Jan 7, 2020 / 4:00 pm

        No, we weren’t, and I realised earlier today. I was going to say so, but um, forgot. Sorry!


  2. quebecer Jan 6, 2020 / 9:55 pm

    Sibley, then. There’s no doubt he plays to his strengths – and the good thing is that they really are very strong. I also thought even in the CC he looked like he had a lot of time to play the ball (as in, picks up the line and length very quickly), and he also seems untroubled by anything short.

    As you say, Chris, the initial stance is far less an indicator than where a batsman finishes, but I do think his bat has to take a bit of a long way around to come down straight on the offside, and the bat can sometimes be angled as he plays in those areas. Whether this can be tightened up is possibly the question. Still, you’ve got to be happy for the lad, as his journey to get here hasn’t exactly been smooth.

    P.S. What a beautiful athlete Jimmy Anderson is!


    • thelegglance Jan 6, 2020 / 10:02 pm

      All true – I guess Steve Smith has rather changed certainties about how much that matters hasn’t he?
      But I think I probably have always felt that (to an extent anyway) a technique that is possibly slightly flawed when looked at at the highest level* is sometimes not the most important thing IF a player plays within his limitations.

      *Nasser Hussain once spoke fascinatingly about how he was unaware he drove with such an open face until he played Test cricket. Ok that’s 20 years ago now and players are filmed, but it’s still startling.


      • quebecer Jan 6, 2020 / 10:08 pm

        And after all, Alistair Cook spent 15+ years fighting his technique to the tune of 12,472 runs.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Jan 6, 2020 / 10:18 pm

      Would you say Steve Smith is unorthodox or a genius?

      My hunch is there are not that many geniuses in the world. But there is a lot of unorthodox talent out there in many different fields of life. And if they can make it work for them then who cares if it isn’t so called textbook?

      It should only become a problem if it doesn’t work.


      • dArthez Jan 7, 2020 / 6:18 am

        Exactly. People are way too obsessed with ‘textbook’ (think moreso in the UK than elsewhere). Probably an offshoot of managerialism; i.e. the illusion of ‘doing things right’ being the best way to do things, when in fact it is not about doing things right, but about assuaging the fears of the incompetents in charge (who are after all nominally responsible, but refuse to take responsibility when things go wrong, and hog all the credit when things do go right).


  3. thelegglance Jan 7, 2020 / 9:40 am

    I have nothing but admiration for the way South Africa (and Malan in particular) are batting here. Textbook batting in how to save a Test match. Of course, they could make a mess of it yet, but it’s very good so far.


    • dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 9:50 am

      Malan has been very impressive. How good a side would Sough Africa have if the counties stopped pinching their players?


      • dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 10:05 am

        Huge wicket and just as I was getting nervous.


  4. dArthez Jan 7, 2020 / 12:56 pm

    What is the plan behind picking Bess as a spinner, if the part-timers are going to bowl just as many overs? Would it then not have made more sense to pick a specialist spinner?


    • dArthez Jan 7, 2020 / 1:53 pm

      Add to that: I can imagine doing that to get more overs in, and if the third new ball could thus be obtained (England would need to bowl about 110 overs today then). But the overrate was not that great either.

      And looks like Jimmy is carrying an injury.


  5. dArthez Jan 7, 2020 / 1:58 pm

    Quinton’s shot vies with Faf’s shot for idiotic act of the day.


    • thelegglance Jan 7, 2020 / 1:59 pm

      Feel free to post again just when England badly need a wicket. 😉


      • dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 2:38 pm

        So anytime now then.


  6. dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 2:51 pm

    Stokes – the man with the golden arm.


    • dArthez Jan 7, 2020 / 2:54 pm

      For a change he does not need the umpire’s assistance to pull of a heist.


  7. dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 2:52 pm

    End of day 5 and stokes still touching 90 miles an hour. What a legend.


    • dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 2:53 pm

      Pretty good catch, too. (shades of Tavare at Melbourne)


    • Rohan Jan 7, 2020 / 3:04 pm

      Reminds me of the Freddie spells at Edgbaston 2005 and Lords 2009…..great stuff!


  8. dlpthomas Jan 7, 2020 / 3:08 pm

    Fuck me – the satellite goes down and I miss the final wicket. On the other hand YAY!!


  9. dArthez Jan 7, 2020 / 3:14 pm

    So for the first time since readmission South Africa have lost the New Years Test. Obviously the batting has never been of a higher standard in the first innings. That is what cost South Africa, more than anything else. To slide from 157/3 to 223 all out.

    At least all the specialist batsmen ate some serious time. That is a positive.

    Congrats England. With a bit of effort you can win a series in South Africa by the same margin as Sri Lanka did.


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