The shackles were removed and all past turmoil was forgotten as South Africa returned to winnings ways with a comfortable 107-run victory over England in the first of four test matches at Supersport Park in Centurion on Sunday.
The Proteas had endured a run of five consecutive losses, to Sri Lanka and India, before the recent victory over the “sickly” English.
Faf du Plessis’ men last tasted success in the grandest format in early January 2019 when they downed Pakistan in Johannesburg by – you guessed it – 107 runs.
The run of five consecutive losses was made to feel even worse considering all the off-field troubles blanketing the cricketing fraternity thanks mainly to dictator, Thabang Moroe.
However, the Proteas had suffered five consecutive losses twice since reunification. The first being in the summer of 2001-02 when South Africa lost three tests away to Australia before returning home to lose the first two return tests, in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The second occasion came four years later under the young captaincy of Graeme Smith, losing again five times to Australia. But these results have by no means be the worst.
South Africa has been knocked over five times on two other occasions, in the summer of 1931-32 – again against Australia and again in 1958 & 1960. The Springboks, as they were known then, lost two tests to Australia in February of 1958 and then the first three tests of a five-match (can you imagine?) test series against England in 1960.
South Africa also lost six in a row during 1911-12, losing to England and Australia but their worst run ever in the history of South African cricket came in their first eight test matches – all against England.
These results spanned a period of 10 years, from 1889 to 1899, in which SA lost four times by an innings.
South Africa’s victory over England in the recently completed first test had three pivotal moments which dictated the result.
Moment 1: Quinton de Kock’s aggressive stroke-play in the first innings changed to momentum. With the Proteas teetering on 111-5, De Kock’s 128-ball knock of 95, along with Dwaine Pretorius on debut (33) and Vernon Philander (35), allowed the hosts to post a modest 284 all out. De Kock struck 14 boundaries in 3 hours at the crease and his ‘take-it-to-them’ attitude gave the hosts the advantage.
Moment 2: Despite Philander, who had just announced his retirement from the format, dismantling England for 181, taking 4-16 in 14.2 overs, the home side were facing their own collapse at 72-4 at the close on day two with Rassie van der Dussen (51), another debutante, and Anrich Nortje at the crease.
Nortje, who was sent in as a nightwatchman, spent over two hours at the crease, facing 89 deliveries and making his highest test score of 40 while facing a barrage of bouncers and head-high full tosses from Jofra Archer.
Had Nortje not knuckled down with Van der Dussen in a 91-run stand, the target of 376 could have been far lower.
Moment 3: South Africa took the new ball in England’s second innings with the visitors on 218-4, needing just another 158 runs. Kagisio Rabada (24-3-103-4) struck with just the second ball.
But both he and Philander failed to make further in-roads as England moved to 232-5. The Du Plessis made a big call! He removed Philander out of the attack and brought Nortje into it. The changed worked!
Nortje claimed the massive wicket of the England skipper, Joe Root (48) and then two overs later, removed Archer, treating him with the same short-pitched ferocity that he received.
Nortje and Rabada ran through the tail quickly, handing SA the victory. Had Du Plessis not made that big call – who knows?
2nd Test – Newlands: The teams move down to Cape Town for the second, traditional, New Year’s Test with England licking their wounds and the Proteas with their tails up.
However, a big question mark hangs over the selectors – and not a nice one considering South Africa’s political climate. Temba Bavuma was injured and not available for the first test, which gave the 30-year old Van der Dussen his chance.
Van der Dussen, despite only scoring six in the first innings, was a key figure in the second in his partnership with Nortje. With Bavuma likely to be fit, do the selectors return him to the starting lineup or do they stick with form?
Another plot to the selection of the side is the injury to opener Aiden Markram. The Knights’ Keegan Petersen was called up to the squad as cover but a specialist opener in the Cobras’ Pieter Malan is sitting in the wings.
A dilemma faces the selectors – do they bring Bavuma back in and elevate him to the openers slot, thereby retaining Van der Dussen? But that would be unfair on Malan who is a specialist in the role and Newlands is his home ground.
Or do they bring Malan in to open, drop Van der Dussen to accommodate Bavuma? Not fair on Van der Dussen!
Or do they go against the grain, and face the wrath of the Black African Cricket Clubs group and bring in Malan, maintain Van der Dussen and leave Bavuma out?
The BACC group has already voiced its unhappiness at the “anti-transformation” agenda of the current “cabal” with Smith being appointed Director of Cricket, Mark Boucher’s appointment as head coach and the appointment of Jacques Kallis as a batting consultant – all being white.
Oh boy, I would hate to be one of the selectors over the next few days.
South Africa have a decent record against the English at Newlands, having won three matches and drawing two in the five that have been played since the Proteas re-entered international cricket.
The last time England faced South Africa at Newlands was back in 2016 – a match that would never have created a result as the pitch was as flat as a pancake. England’s 629 for six declared was built on Ben Stokes (258) and Jonny Bairstow’s (150*) 399-run stand for the sixth wicket. Stokes was brilliant, facing just 198 balls while smashing 30 boundaries and 11 sixes.
South Africa replied with 627 for seven declared with Hashim Amla, now retired, making 201 and an unbeaten 102 from Bavuma.
There have been three other totals in excess of 500 but the highest since unity was South Africa’s 447 for seven declared in their second innings in 2010 – a match that Graeme Swann and Graham Onions fought bravely to save the match with SA needing just one wicket on the final afternoon.
South Africa might have their tails up, but England, despite being poor travelers of late, will come out fighting and will not give up that easily. However, if I was a betting man – which I am not – I would give a draw 2-1 odds with South Africa 3-1 and England 5-1 to win.
But hey, as Manuel said in Fawlty Towers – “I know naaathing!”