AB de Villiers rescued a series that was in danger of being spoiled by animosity and crass behaviour with a match-winning hundred at St George’s Park.
With so much testosterone flying about, with players, media, cricket officials and fans behaving like teenage schoolboys, how refreshing it was to see the most meaningful talking finally being done with the bat and ball.
This has a been a high-class Test match at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth. There has been quality cricket played on both sides, but the hosts are in complete control of a game they should win to square the series at 1-1.
The debate about where the ‘line in the sand’ is drawn depends if you’re sitting in the South African or Australian camp. While banter is part of the game and everyone feels the buzz around controlled aggression, there have been elements that have been unbefitting in the extreme.
Why two Cricket SA officials would allow themselves to be photographed with ‘fans’ wearing Sonny Bill Williams facemasks, in an apparent attempt to further goad Australia’s David Warner about a drunken moment of madness between his now wife, who was a single 22-year-old at the time, and the rugby player in 2007 is not only irresponsible, but also lacks class.
It’s something we might come to expect from Donald Trump, but when cricket officials get involved in ‘endorsing’ juvenile testosterone-fuelled behaviour, with the result that the woman – Warner’s now-wife Candice, has her name dragged through the mud – becomes the real victim, it’s way over any mythical line.
Thankfully, the enduring brilliance of AB de Villiers and the tightly-sprung coil that is Kagiso Rabada ensured that South Africa are well ahead in this Test. Rabada, however, didn’t do himself any favours when giving Warner a second innings send-off. Obviously it depends on the side of the fence and many South Africans won’t accept it, but three screams of ‘YESSSSS!’ in Warner’s ear for me constitutes over-stepping the line. Given that the bowler was facing a disciplinary meeting with the ICC match referee Jeff Crowe for bumping Steve Smith on the first day and faced missing the rest of the series, it seemed that he too had become overly invested in the entire Quinton de Kock-Warner ‘saga’.
When Virat Kohli was bursting a vein after India had claimed the wicket of Faf du Plessis during their Test series, South Africans were up in arms and demanding action taken against the Indian captain for over-zealous celebration. Of course, when it’s the other way round, the proverbial goalposts are moved.
Australia are known to be crass with some of their sledging – ‘mental disintegration’ as they prefer to call it – but by trying to ‘outwit’ (sic) them only serves to drag yourself down to their level. Unfortunately, South Africa, by the actions of some of their fans, officials and media, joined them in the cesspit.
The best way to react is by letting the talking be done on the field. Kevin Pietersen was relentlessly targeted during the 2005 Ashes but 473 runs later in his first five Tests for England, he’d played a major part in his team winning that series, possibly the best installment we have ever witnessed.
We saw at Kingsmead when De Villiers was run out and Nathan Lyon dropped the ball next to his sprawled body. It was boorish and childish by the Australian and an insult to one of the finest players modern cricket has seen. Incidentally, in three innings so far this series, De Villiers has scored 197 runs and that run-out has been the only time he’s been dismissed. Who looks like the fool now? Like KP, AB knows the one way to shut up the opposition is by scoring big runs, and there’s a sense that De Villiers might yet go on to be the man who swings this series in the favour of the hosts.
De Villiers’ masterly unbeaten 126 – his 22nd Test hundred – took the game away from Australia and left them 139 runs behind after the first innings. Morne Morkel, who is playing in his final Test series, recently said that ‘when AB goes all Spiderman with his shots, he’s virtually impossible to dismiss’. What De Villiers did, along with plenty of help from Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj, was to apply scoreboard pressure. And against an attack like Rabada, Philander, Lungi Ngidi and Maharaj, one sensed that De Villiers had batted the tourists into submission.
Credit to Australia’s players, in that at the end of the South African innings, they walked up to De Villiers to shake his hand. They knew the significance and brilliance of the innings.
The last three South African wickets put on 155 runs, the first time the tail had really wagged this year. It helped that Rabada had been sent up the order as nightwatchman on day one, which meant that De Kock was at No 8 and Philander could bat as low as No 9, with Maharaj and Ngidi to come, and also that Philander and Maharaj were able to occupy the crease, which allowed De Villiers to tee off.
In their second innings, Australia were bullied early by Rabada, coming off a special effort in the first innings, and who was bowling as if he realised he might be banned for the last two Tests. He is a superstar in the making, and while one wouldn’t want to pour water on his fire, perhaps someone like AB can put an arm around his shoulders and let him know that the way to hurt an Aussie is by letting the ball do the talking.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images