Proteas rule the world — for the moment
SO THIS is what it looks like from the top of the world. Quite some view, and nothing to beat the feeling.
Captain Graeme Smith and his men might have said something similar to themselves as they surveyed Lord’s in London last night after being officially acknowledged as what they have, for some time, believed themselves to be: the finest team in Test cricket.
But they would have said so quietly, because they know that, not many weeks from now, they will be in Australia — where defeat will cost them their newly wrested crown.
If the Proteas emerge from that battle still on top of the heap, they are likely to have to put it all on the line against Pakistan in South Africa next year.
In the logic of the gunslinger or the boxing champion, the Proteas are only as good as their last win.
But what a win it was! In the madness that lurked on the edge of town after tea, with the runs flowing and the target shrinking and the new ball refusing to creep closer at anything more than the pace of the slowly setting sun, the improbable if not the impossible became the awkwardly plausible: England could win this thing.
Seventy-four runs were hammered off 66 balls by Matt Prior and Graeme Swann, easily the players with the most character in the lower half of England’s batting order.
Their separation by way of Jacques Rudolph’s nervous throw and Imran Tahir’s Rhodes-like lunge for the run-out was followed by Prior’s demise by way of a hoist off Morne Morkel.
England were 283/9. Prior was their last real hope. South Africa were home now. They had to be.
Out on the field the Proteas thought so too. Their celebrations were frenetic and ragged, and they went on for the longest of moments. Prior was out. Just two more to get — tail-enders at that.
Except that, when the giant screen revealed the awful truth, that wasn’t the case: Morkel had overstepped. A no-ball. Prior, almost at the rope, turned back to fight on. England were 283/8.
It was all too much for Shaun Pollock, commentating on Test Match Special, who bleated in a voice cracked with tension: "They thought they had the match; they thought they had the series; they thought they had the mace …"
The new ball eventually came. Except that it didn’t. When the time arrived, Smith tossed the old ball back to Tahir — and four deliveries later he had Prior stumped.
Except that he didn’t. Third umpire Rod Tucker, he of the laws of cricket in Braille, saw what everyone else did not and decided that Prior’s heel had touched the ground behind his crease.
Through all this, as the excitement built in the stands and observers of many years’ standing of this ridiculous game felt their necks freeze with nervous energy, an even stranger thing than all of the strange things we saw on Monday happened to the South Africans on the field.
It was something that, if you were not there to see and feel it for yourself, you may never understand, let alone believe.
What happened was, in a word, nothing — no disappointment, no rolled eyes, no dropped heads, no kicking at the ground, no hint that it was slipping away, nothing at all to suggest they had let loose their grip on the match, the series, the mace.
They kept calm. They carried on. They did not panic. They were, in another word not often associated with the butch business of sport, beautiful.
And then Vernon Philander took two wickets in two balls and South Africa were on top of the world. On a clear day, from here, forever is nothing.
More in this section
- Clarke still on injury list but vows to be fit for Ashes
- Proteas have edge over Roses, but they’re still a thorny bunch
- AB de Villiers confident SA can win without Steyn
- Spinners hold their own in the fast lane
- Cricket South Africa should be careful when picking its bedfellows
- Proteas bank on Steyn, or may pray for rain