We didn’t draw blood, but what a beautiful bloody draw
Like a delirious marathoner on wobbly legs, South Africa has staggered to the finish line. They clung on with two measly wickets to spare, and Australia will be gutted tonight. They shouldn’t be.
Australia and South Africa both played their part in a drawn match which was a win for the game of Test cricket. A Test draw like we saw today is a beautiful thing. A frustrating, often boring, hair-tearingly exasperating thing, but a beautiful thing nonetheless.
From the batting perspective, a draw brings out everything that the modern cricketer is programmed not to do. Look at Dave Warner on day one blasting 119 off 112 balls. Then look at AB de Villiers scoring 33 of 220 yesterday and today. Even the seagulls were entitled to fall asleep.
De Villiers, as much as the unbeaten centurian Faf du Plessis, was the architect of this South African escape. Almost the whole team played its part, pfaffing around with Faf, ignoring not just every instinct of the modern cricketer but every instinct of man himself.
The defensive cricket stroke known colloquially as “the block” is about as natural a human motion as the pole vault. It’s just not something we men are programmed to do. But ball after ball, over after over, the South Africans resisted the urge to unleash weapons and instead built the Great Wall of China.
That is what Test cricket is about, always has been about. The test not just of skill but of character. And these South Africans have character. Maybe that character would have been tested more deeply against Warne and McGrath, but to argue that it is to grossly disrespect the efforts of Nathan Lyon and Peter Siddle.
Lyon’s figures were incredible. Even accounting for South Africa’s stonewalling, he sent down 50 overs for just 49 runs. Has anyone ever bowled 50 overs at less than a run per over?
As for Siddle, the man has the heart of three lions and must surely be the first quick picked when Australia takes on England – the team with three lions as its logo – later this year. He is an inspiration.
This was a day which was totally lost on the unconverted. Many of my colleagues in the large newsroom in which I work were perplexed as to why one team was trying not to win, but merely to survive. To them, it was like a Bond movie with no car chases or lovemaking scenes with the slinky Russian spy in a hot tub.
Oh, this was much more rewarding than any of that. This was an arm wrestle between the world number one and the team that would take its mantle. Australia may yet claim that title in the Perth Test starting Friday, although you sense that the mental and physical effort of Adelaide may tell, and that South Africa now has the upper hand.
That’s the thing about a draw in Test cricket, especially a draw as exhausting as today’s. It galvanises or deflates teams for the next match. It is a stalemate on paper, but can be a win or loss of the mental variety which yields a result down the track.
And by the way, I write all this as an unabashed fan of Twenty20 cricket. I love that I can take my six year old to a T20 game and be home at a reasonable hour, or that I can go with my mates and drink beer and enjoy brutal hitting for its own sake.
If T20 is an action flick, this was War and Peace. It was a true epic. A real war of attrition. Heck, I know those are both clichés, but I’m too exhausted from today’s action to waste energy on my own phrases.
You can only imagine how players from both sides feel.
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