It is entirely disproportionate to lead the review of a Test match with a single catch or solitary moment of fielding, but Temba Bavuma’s runout of David Warner in the second innings of the first Test against Australia in Perth on Monday may be the greatest exception in modern times, or any times.
Occasionally in sport the clock stops for certain players, usually the very best but not exclusively and not literally.
But “stopped-clock illusion” is a real thing. Great athletes have described a feeling of moving into a different time zone to the one inhabited by their opponents, one in which they see the ball or the finish line so much earlier than usual and are able to react with so much more time on their hands than ordinarily would be the case.
They describe how the noise of thousands of spectators that had previously been in their heads as a distraction suddenly disappears, and how they can hear the sound of their own breathing, like being underwater wearing a scuba mask. They often describe, too, not understanding how they reached that state of being or how they were able to perform so brilliantly.
When Warner, the danger man for the Proteas, pushed the ball into the covers and set off for what appeared to be a quick but not dangerous single, Bavuma had already taken three paces at full speed towards where his brain anticipated the ball was going to be.
Only when Warner had taken three paces of his own did he become aware of the danger.
Bavuma sprinted another six and, on the seventh, launched himself forwards in a dive towards the ball, which seemed impossibly fast to control. By then, Warner had kicked into a panicky sprint himself.
Right from the start everybody’s instincts, including Bavuma’s, said the batsman was safe — even when the throw hit and the bails fell off. But it all happened too quickly for anyone to digest. The commentators agreed it was “amazing” but concluded that Warner was safe.
Umpire Aleem Dar only referred it because he was still back-pedalling to get into position and had missed the critical moment.
From the moment Bavuma set off to the moment the bails fell, the time elapsed was a fraction over three seconds. His dive, gather and throw took three-tenths of a second. So it was understandable that the disbelieving awe took a while to set in as the replays began.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Bavuma said shortly after leaving the field following South Africa’s famous 177-run victory. “I just saw a replay and I can’t explain how I got my body into that position. It seemed to last a bit longer for me than it looked on the screen.”
Stopped-clock illusion at its best, the reward for years of practise and buckets of blood, sweat and tears, literally.
If Australia had saved the game the Bavuma moment would still have made highlights packages for years to come, but because it removed Australia’s best batsman and put the Proteas on course for victory it will be revered and cherished with the historical status it deserves.
The attention focused on the runout is also, ironically, one of the greatest back-handed compliments in the history of South African cricket because man-of-the-match Kagiso Rabada has made such an astonishing start to his Test career that a match-winning performance was all but expected.
Like Allan Donald and Dale Steyn in their prime, Rabada has already earned a reputation for delivering most when the requirement is greatest.
The over he bowled to dismiss 37-year-old veteran Adam Voges has already become an internet sensation and will, no doubt, be used by coaches and aspirant fast bowlers around the world as a classic example of “how to do it”.
Bowlers speak of setting up a batsman for his dismissal. Rabada made Voges, who averages 70 in Test cricket, look like a novice. He loves to deflect credit and praise, but he couldn’t escape this time.
“Sometimes you work a plan against a batsman and it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This was one of those times when it worked perfectly. I was pleased with that over; it was very satisfying.”
Speed and stamina are prerequisites for a 21-year-old but they are usually in the infancy stage at mastering the skills required to forge a career.
Rabada’s thirst for knowledge, and his willingness to learn and practise, flies in the face of the convention that has testosterone-fuelled youngsters believing they know best — which usually leads them trying to intimidate batsmen rather than get them out.
“He asks great questions,” said fast bowling coach Charl Langeveldt after the Perth Test. Such as? “I told him Australia would be like nothing else he has experienced. That he would encounter challenges, on and off the field, that he had never experienced before. And he said: ‘Okay, so what do I need to do to succeed?’ He’s such a pleasure to work with,” Langeveldt said.
The challenge for the team now is to win the series and make it three in a row in Australia, an unprecedented achievement for any nation.
The second Test begins at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart on Saturday, where summer arrives last in this country.
Temperatures peaked at 37°C in Perth but have not topped 17 in Hobart so far, and there is heavy rain forecast for the first day and showers on the second.
Provided the tourists are not caught “cold” on the field over the next five days whenever play is possible, their hosts could be left desperately chasing victory in the day-night Test in Adelaide at the end of the month to salvage some much-needed pride.
Varied but vital centuries from JP Duminy and Dean Elgar, incisive and controlled bowling respectively from Vernon Philander, and Quinton de Kock’s pair of critical half-centuries were also vital to victory in the first Test, as was Bavuma’s first-innings 50 after walking to the wicket at a heart-trembling 32-4.
But it is the low-flying Bavuma and the high-flying Rabada who have dominated Australia’s painful introspection this week.