The celebration of a wicket in cricket, much like a goal in football or a try in rugby, has in the past been described as orgasmic. It is the sudden release of emotion after sustained pressure and tension. This is why every dismissal features on a highlights reel, but only a handful of boundaries are included. It is the rarity that feeds the exaltation, writes Daniel Gallan.
At SuperSport Park in Centurion on Friday, the crowd were force fed a deluge of the good stuff. Like choking on the most expensive caviar, the inundation of something special made it feel cheap.
South Africa began and ended the day with bat in hand, first losing one wicket to be bowled out for 284 in their first innings and then stumbling to stumps on 72-4. Between the Proteas’ two digs England collapsed from 142 for four to be bundled out for 181.
The pitch in the middle was already tough to bat on as Thursday’s shadows grew long, but this was not the unplayable track one would assume from reading the scorecards.
15 wickets fell today for 260 runs. It would be easy to chalk this down to poor batting (and there was more than enough of that), but credit must go to the bowlers who were mostly exceptional.
Vernon Philander was the best of the bunch. His first five overs were all maidens and included the wicket of England opener Rory Burns. He ended his work with 4/16 from 14.2 overs, including eight maidens. It took England 35 balls before they managed to score a run off him.
Most graphics illustrating where a bowler has landed the ball give the impression the pitch has been struck with chicken pox. Philander found the same area – back of a good length, just outside off-stump – with such regularity that the pitch appeared to have developed a rash.
Or maybe it was merely blushing. Watching Philander with the new ball in his hand should come with an age restriction. Explaining just why it was so special is a conversation that every parent should have with their child once they reach a certain age.
Perhaps the ecstasy that Philander provided was exacerbated by his imminent retirement. Like a summer fling that ignites the senses, this tryst now has an expiry date. It only makes us want him more.
Philander has reportedly penned a three-year Kolpak deal with Somerset in the County Championship, though these rumours have yet to be confirmed. Either way, this four-Test series will be the last we see of him with a protea on his chest.
Kagiso Rabada was expensive, conceding 68 runs across his 15 overs, but these numbers are swollen by a wayward second spell. His first crack with the new ball was brutally quick and aggressive and removed burly opener Dom Sibley inside five overs. He later returned to see off Sam Curran and Stuart Broad to help Philander clean up the lower order.
Between the two spearheads, Dwaine Pretorius (1/23) and Anrich Nortje (2/47) provided the back-up. Pretorius’ control and Nortje’s pace meant South Africa never let England get away from them, even when Joe Denly (50), Joe Root (29) and Ben Stokes (35) rebuilt after a rocky start.
Denly, a derided figure among English journalists who seem to delight in his languid stroke play and vulnerability at the crease, was dropped by Rassie van der Dussen at first slip off Rabada before he had scored a run. He was eventually dismissed for 50, eliciting shocked sniggers in the press box when he raised his bat. Had the catch been held this game would be over as a contest.
Root showed a touch of class for his 29, driving and cutting with distinction, before he recklessly ventured out of his crease and tried to defend Philander while on the move. Balance is required when facing probing seamers. The English skipper had none.
Stokes showed some aggression for his 35, slog-sweeping Keshav Maharaj for back-to-back sixes, before he recklessly dangled his bat away from his body and was caught behind off Nortje. You need to leave well when digging your side out of a hole and the England vice-captain showed none in this stroke.
This pitch is only getting more difficult to bat on. Not that Aiden Markram will be able to tell you. He was out lbw to James Anderson in the first over, having fallen over his front leg before playing around a straight delivery.
Zubayr Hamza, Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis, who was out on the hook to Jofra Archer in a battle of the alpha males, contributed 46 runs from 81 balls. It’s been a Test to forget for South Africa’s top four, who averaged 17 between them.
In the dying light, Van der Dussen and nightwatchman Nortje survived to shepherd South Africa to the close. They will resume on Saturday on 17 and four respectively with a lead of 175 to build on. If Saturday follows Friday in events on the field as well as days of the week, we might have a result on Saturday afternoon.
Daniel Gallan in Centurion
Photo: Gallo Images