South Africa are just 115 runs away from sealing a 2-0 Test series win over the West Indies. For a few hours on Monday, the visitors seemed as if though they just might be able to show some backbone. But in the end, they turned out to be jellyfish. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
For most of day four of the third Test against the West Indies, South Africa were tested. Most of the morning was spent at the team hotel, waiting for the rain to subside. They could have, of course, gone to the ground, but after the rain fiasco in Port Elizabeth, they are probably tired of change-room cricket. Once play eventually got underway, at 15:00, they were tested by the surprise resolve of the West Indies.
But, as with all tests the number one ranked team have endured over the last five years, they eventually came out on top, and the resolve showed by the visitors turned out to be nothing more than a hurdle to cross.
Play started with Marlon Samuels, the man who had insisted that he would have no spinner dictate terms to him, dictating the terms himself. For 57 balls on day three and for a further 93 on day four, he showed exactly why he is one of the most irksome players in world cricket.
He took 46 runs off 47 balls from Harmer and showed little regard for Dale Steyn, taking 12 off 28, of which eight runs came in boundaries. Samuels has a certain arrogant swagger. Well, some call it arrogance, others will simply see it as confidence. And it is deserved confidence, too. Samuels walks his talk and will most likely top the West Indies batting average for this tour. Sometimes, though, as with all struts, he missteps.
After scoring just four runs off 28 balls, Samuels had enough of his strut being stopped. He tried to dictate to the spinner, but instead was dictated to, with Dean Elgar taking a good running catch at mid-on. It was an unfathomable shot, but typical of a player who is part of a side that is clearly in the doldrums and low on confidence. Samuels might exude all the confidence in the world, but ineptitude is often infectious.
That much has been evident in how they have collapsed throughout the series. In Centurion, they lost six wickets for just 39 runs; in Port Elizabeth, five wickets fell for 15 runs and in the first innings at Cape Town, four wickets were plucked out for 30 runs. In their second innings they lost a staggering seven wickets for 33 runs. The ineptitude in holding their nerve is embarrassing and the lack of resolve shown by senior players such as Samuels is unforgivable.
After Samuels was dismissed, South Africa knew the Jenga tower would be coming down and their plans and persistence paid dividends. It started with Dale Steyn’s plan for Jermaine Blackwood. Having tempted and teased him in the previous over, South Africa’s pace ace needed just one short ball and a fuller delivery to send Blackwood’s stumps cartwheeling. He was soon followed by Denesh Ramdin, hitting a swinging delivery to square leg. Then it was Jason Holder and Jerome Taylor, who both fell to fielding traps set for the spinner, Simon Harmer.
Sulieman Benn followed and a comical run out of Shivnarine Chanderpaul topped off the ominishambles that has become West Indies cricket. It was a reminder that when Steyn is spitting venom, he can destroy batting line-ups. Not only does he chalk off the scalps in his wickets column, but his aggression also allows others to become beneficiaries. When the ball is swinging and South Africa needs somebody to step up, there is no better player to turn to than Steyn.
South Africa needs just 115 more runs to win and with good weather forecast for the final day, it’s a victory that many will expect and one that will cement their place at the top of the Test rankings for a while longer.
The series has gone mostly to script. Even if the Windies took South Africa by surprise a few times, they have not been able to get out of the doldrums of low confidence they have been rotting in for the last few years.
Out of the 41 Tests the West Indies have played in the last five years, they have lost 17 and won just 11. They have won just two away series in the same time period and those wins were over Bangladesh. They recently pulled out of a tour to India because of pay issues, just one staff dispute in a long list of incidents in recent times.
Very few would have expected the West Indies to show any kind of resolve, never mind compete. While they have shown flashes of promise, those have been just that: flashes. Flashes usually disappear and dissolve into nothingness. Those who keep holding out hope for a revival of the Calypso Cricket glory days will be hoping that these flashes can flicker for a little while longer. DM
West Indies 329 (Leon Johnson 54 (84), Jermaine Blackwood 56 (113); Dale Steyn 25-6-78-4) & 215 (Marlon Samuels 74 (150), Shivnarine Chanderpaul 50 (113); Dale Steyn 23.5-3-75-3; Simon Harmer 24-7-82-4)
South Africa 421 (Faf du Plessis 68 (122), AB de Villiers 148 (194); Jason Holder 24-4-87-2) & 9-1
South Africa requires 115 runs for victory
Photo: South Africa’s Dale Steyn celebrates taking the wicket of West Indies batsman Jermaine Blackwood during the second day of their third test cricket match in Cape Town January 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings