South Africa vs England: Newlands witnesses, highlights the possibilities and impossibilities of Test cricket on Day 5

South Africa versus England, second Test at Newlands, Cape Town: When fifth day of Test cricket once again became ingenious.

Vaibhav Shah, Jan 08, 2020 17:47:57 IST

Pieter Malan has faced 20,806 deliveries in red-ball cricket. But none of those have been bowled to him on day five.

Malan has piled up 10,229 runs donning all whites. But not one has been scored on day five.

Before representing South Africa senior team, Malan has walked out on 148 occasions to play country's domestic cricket, but never five days in a row.

And yet, it is on day five he chases history in the second Test against England at Newlands in Cape Town.

South Africa vs England: Newlands witnesses, highlights the possibilities and impossibilities of Test cricket on Day 5

England beat South Africa at Newlands on Day 5 to level the Test series 1-1. Getty Images

Malan must be credited for finding himself batting on the final day after the debutant blunted James Anderson's attack with the new ball and did so in the most old fashioned and dogged style of batting, to remain unbeaten on 63 from 193 balls.

To borrow from renowned sports writer Rohit Brijnath, who in his recent column wrote: "Anticipation is the first act of the sporting drama." The sense of anticipation would have been at its zenith at the start of fifth day in Cape Town when the home side needed 312 runs with eight wickets in hand to achieve the highest run chase in Test cricket history.

Twenty-seven overs later, South Africa required 268 runs. England needed six more wickets. At Lunch, there was more to chew on than just food.

“Will they?”

“They won’t, right?”

“The second new ball is only three overs old.”

“Faf’s gone!”

“...but Malan is still out there.”

“Hmm... probably a draw at best.”

“... but Quinton de Kock is yet to come!”

Out walk the players for the second session. Stuart Broad to Malan, 63 overs left in the day. Play!

Day five – A day of possibilities. A day of impossibilities.

***

The bigger picture, though, for day five, isn’t as picturesque as the table mountains in the backdrop of Newlands.

It is completely contrasting.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is planning to prune Test cricket to four days, treating the fifth day of a Test like an overgrown shrub in the back garden that is too cumbersome to manage.

***

After facing 95 balls on day five, in the fourth over of the afternoon session, Malan receives the delivery that ends his long vigil. It seemed the hope that had smouldered for so long for South Africa had been vanquished in a jiffy.

England halfway there, a win in Newlands after 63 years appears on the horizon.

The fifth day had already begun its magic. The rough that otherwise wouldn't have emerged made the part-time leg-spin of Joe Denly from time to time appear as if they were Shane Warne's leg breaks. For batsmen runs became superfluous, survival became ambitious.

The fifth day of Test cricket once again became ingenious.

A ball and 28 overs since Malan’s wicket, England were still only halfway there. Rassie van der Dussen and Quinton de Kock took Malan’s torch of defiance forward with their strong-willed resistance as hope for the Proteas reemerged.

Suddenly, England weren't enjoying their tea. For South Africa 31 overs of doughtiness separate a place in the pantheon of great Test match draws. For England, it was a match they simply couldn't lose because of the position they were a day back and it was also a way for Root's men to keep the dream of winning the series alive.

“Will they?”

“They won’t, right?”

“Jimmy will be bowling now.”

“Last recognised batting pair.”

“...it's the last session”

“Yep... probably a draw then.”

“Just one wicket away…”

Day five – A day of possibilities. A day of impossibilities.

Desperate times called for desperate measures from Joe Root as he made some startling field placements. Sometimes, there were two leg gullies, then there were a couple of short covers and a pair of catchers at short mid-wicket positioned at the same time. Multiple short leg fielders required a prefix of 'forward' or 'backward' to be differentiated.

Fifth-day drama rose, tension ensued, cricket once again started to bemuse.

Playing only his second Test and batting for the first time on day five, Van der Dussen, consumed 140 balls before he was strangled down the leg side for 17. It turns out to be 17th slowest innings in history of Tests for a batsmen who played over 100 balls.

De Kock scores his career’s slowest half-century before he falls to a long hop by a part-timer.

Proteas' lower-order stretch the match into the final hour of the fifth day but Ben Stokes continues to be cricketing god's favourite child even in 2020.

South Africa are unable to deny England a win but were able to provide a great advert for five-day cricket, ironically on a day when their boards supported ICC’s idea of four-day affair.

Player of the Cape Town Test, Stokes, doesn’t like it easy either.

"It was an amazing game to be a part of. The fact it went all the way to the wire proves why Test cricket should be five days and should always stay five days," he said.

"It must be amazing as a spectator to be living through these emotions, but being a player on the field, going through the highs and lows of what Test cricket can do to you on a day-to-day basis is just awesome."

"Test cricket is not made for four days, it's made for five. It's called Test cricket for a reason."

"They should change it to 'easy cricket', if they make it four days."

***

Sure, there is enough evidence that suggests Test matches do not venture into the final day but that stems from the fact that there is a cushion of an extra day available. Extra not in terms of excess but in terms of requirement. The format by design is such that it allows the contest to change daily, at times constantly. The framework allows for game to ebb and flow, for the narrative to develop and travel through space and time before the drama explodes and engulfs the audience.

The president of cricketing powerhouse BCCI, Sourav Ganguly, feels it would be premature to comment on ICC's proposal to make a four-day Test mandatory but here’s an early call from Malan, from Stokes and from sporting drama and spectacle what five days of Test cricket brings to the fore.

In trying times we cling on to hope. A hope that things will change for the better. A hope to defy odds. Malan did hang in for a long time to play on the fifth day, so did Van der Dussen until they met their fateful deliveries. Have the cricket administrators run out of patience with five days of Test cricket with its fate more or less decided or is there still hope that can be clinged on to?

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Updated Date: Jan 08, 2020 17:47:57 IST






Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 5046 120
2 New Zealand 3241 112
3 South Africa 3177 102
4 England 4593 102
5 Australia 3672 102
6 Sri Lanka 3795 95
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7364 121
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 5019 98
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 8366 270
2 Australia 6986 269
3 England 5568 265
4 South Africa 4720 262
5 India 10071 258
6 New Zealand 6056 252