SOUTH AFRICA TOUR FROM PAKISTAN, 2021
South Africa averages 13.32 per wicket on this streak, and they’re better than that: of their XIs, only Rabada and Anrich Nortje have lower career shot averages. © PCB
Another day, another breakdown. Bat watching in South Africa has become a threatening exercise, like waiting for the bogeyman to come out from under the bed. Therefore, the hexacosioihexeconta-hexaphobics among us should not read the next paragraph.
If you add the total of 201 in South Africa in Rawalpindi to the 220 and 245 in Karachi, you get what Christians call the number of the beast: 666, the mere mention of which causes Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobics to pull the blankets over their heads and to the evil one wait slipped back from where it came from.
The 5/41 and 9/70 crashes in South Africa last week were followed by a 5/37 drop on Saturday (February 6). Last month they suffered a 9/84 mess at the Wanderers against Sri Lanka, where England crashed and snapped 5/95 and 8/93 in January last year.
It is pointless to ask why it stays that way. “Trust me if I knew I’d let you know,” said Quinton de Kock after the Karachi Test. “And if we knew how to fix it, we wouldn’t do it at all.” Damn right.
But while they continue to give away gates like politicians make promises in election campaigns, South Africans are being asked. Because unlike politicians, players are faced with a vote of confidence every time they step on the field and are held accountable for their failure to do so.
From the front line fighters of the visitors this time only Rassie van der Dussen, who had undone the first ball with a delivery from Hasan Ali who did not get up, had an excuse. The rest faced at least 20 balls. Aiden Markram saw 60 and Wiaan Mulder 83. Temba Bavuma’s unbeaten 44 was assembled from 138 deliveries, as carefully as a bicycle made of matches. He set an example, but South Africa won’t often be in a winning position with Bavuma’s teammates scoring as slowly as he is. It is also true that without Bavuma’s stickiness they would be far worse off.
South Africa averages 13.32 per wicket on this streak, and they’re better than that: of their XIs, only Rabada and Anrich Nortje have lower career shot averages. George Linde would have been entitled to groan about the batters. He knew better than to do that. “It is what it is,” he told an online press conference. “You don’t come out on purpose. [Pakistan] well bowled so you have to honor them. Our batsmen have fixtures and I’m pretty confident that they’ll get us over the line in the next game … the next innings. “The first version of what Linde said was undoubtedly a slip of the tongue, but it will likely be proven accurate.
Hasan made an impressive recovery from an indifferent first test with a 5/54. He bowled with enough speed and more than enough passion and deserved his success. But the innings were riddled with the now familiar tropes of poor shot selection and poor running between the wickets.
South Africa’s bowlers kept them competing early in Pakistan’s second inning. Kagiso Rabada had put Imran Butt in the lead before the first run was scored after the 26th ball, and Keshav Maharaj had Babar Azam in front of a leg and sacked him for the third time in four innings – or as many times as Nathan Lyon and Rabada, but in fewer games and more often in fewer games than Mitchell Starc and James Anderson. Linde threw nine overs for a dozen runs and took three wickets. And they weren’t just any gates: Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, and Faheem Ashraf.
But three catches dropped, all close to the bat, eased the pressure. With a lead of 200, well-positioned Mohammad Rizwan and four wickets in hand, the advantage is firmly with the home team.
It was not the first time that South Africa’s eyelash had let her down and steered the story in the wrong direction. Would it be the last time this would happen? “I don’t look too deep into the eyelash,” said Linde. “As a spin bowler, that’s what I focus on. If it is my chance, I have my schedules so I’m sure the Batters have theirs.”
Maybe the batters could learn from him. Linde is in his third test. In his first innings he hit 81 balls, in October 2019 in Ranchi against India and in the second on 55. In Karachi he was certain for 64 and 29 deliveries and for 21 in Rawalpindi.
No doubt that kind of grit fueled his optimism when asked how many races he thought South Africa was ready for the series’ level. “Anything under 300, we’ll take that,” he said. “Hopefully it’s 250 or 220, whatever. Realistically, below 270 or 300, I’m pretty confident we’ll be chasing it.” With the evidence available, many would assume that South Africa has about as many chances of doing this as they correctly spelled Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.