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Bowlers incite our bloodlust

The Proteas attack has turned us into bloodthirsty fiends. A crowd baying for blood with every ball.

Our lust began in Centurion. As the sun beat down on our scalps, so too did Duanne Olivier on the Pakistan order. Even from the cheap seats they couldn’t have looked more helpless — ants under the speedster’s huge heel.

As the heat ratcheted up so too did our collective delirium. Just as the batsmen could not escape their fate, the receding shade would allow no survivors. We became lost in a haze of booze and blitz cricket.

In this state, our own innings put us in a stupor, unable to discern — or really care — who was at the crease. The Gautrain passing by at periodic intervals was the only reminder that time was progressing as usual.

But when Kagiso Rabada (aka KG) is handed the opening ball that all changes. There’s an expectation that we’re about to witness something remarkable, possibly something deadly.

SuperSport Park set the tone for what we would see over the course of the whitewash series: pitches and players abused by the conditions, ruthless bouncers and openers who need not have been concerned about how far away lunch was.

The fact is the South African attack, when prioritising speed, puts on a thrilling audition to be named the eighth wonder of the world. The indefatigable ability of Vernon Philander to find his spot is as pleasing on the eye as it is precise. Dale Steyn’s experience is as palatable as fine wine. Watching Rabada bowl almost feels masochistic.

And the options are only growing greater. 

Ottis Gibson reckons KG has been playing at only “60%”, so will probably get a rest in at least one of the Kingsmead or St George’s Tests against Sri Lanka. Those grounds will, at the very least, necessitate the recall of Keshav Maharaj – but any more additions to the spin department will involve some uncomfortable culling. As is, Lungi Ngidi finds his way back into the side blocked by the fact that Olivier came within a fallen bail of breaking a 116-year-old record with his 24 wickets across the series.

Gibson and the selectors could only wish they had such luxuries holding the bat. Walking into the Wanderers for the dead rubber, everything felt benign: the stakes, the conditions and the pitch savagery that only recently almost cost the stadium international games. There was a feeling around the ground that this was finally the time for Test cricket after the frivolity of Centurion and Newlands. 

Yet, for long periods, the Proteas performed as though the pressure was pushing down on them. By the second innings, Hashim Amla had to fend off what would have been a brutal opening onslaught. His hint at a return to form and Quinton de Kock’s welcome century (one of two in the three games) stood as some of the only positives.

Temba Bavuma’s consistency has continued to court calls for him to move up, but arguably he’s needed more than ever at six. With the line-up’s propensity to be erratic, his experience props up the bridge after its pillars give out. Theunis de Bruyn and his average of 18.66 showed that he’s not able to fulfil that role. Should four pacers accompany Maharaj to Durban and Port Elizabeth, he’ll probably be the easy cut. Even if that doesn’t happen, his performance has left the door open to give Zubayr Hamza his second cap.

The Proteas won this series comfortably because Pakistan’s batsmen had the life expectancy of an 18-year-old drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Watching our boys is akin to shouting “defence” at a basketball game — we support the effort, but there’s no denying it’s really the attack we’re interested in.

And so the visitors walked to the crease on Day 4 in Johannesburg with a sliver of hope that they could overhaul the deficit. Olivier crushed the resistance by sending captain Sarfraz Ahmed home for a duck after a deceptive full-length ball.

From there our attention once more demanded blood.

An older man in the corner of the stadium shouted grumpily when Shadab Khan attempted to stay the execution on his own. He demanded Rabada target the wicket with each ball and forego attempts at looking for the knick. It wasn’t even lunch, but there was no appetite left for considered cricket. 

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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