Yesterday, on the second day of the first test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands, Cape Town experienced a period of atmospheric disturbance that at one time caused the ball to veer erratically to one side or the other at disconcerting pace.
These abnormal conditions ended as suddenly and as unexpectedly as they had arrived but in that relatively brief period wickets fell like autumn leaves. And no-one could be sure if or when such conditions might return.
The craving for stability and predictability was palpable, but Day Three was full of omens for both sides. It was 11/11/11 and by 11 o’clock South Africa needed 111 to win.
Normalcy was a term coined by Warren Harding when campaigning in the American presidential election immediately after the First World War.
It refers to what people call normality when they can no longer take it for granted.
For Australia, normal was once the omnipotence and resilience they experienced for a sustained period – a green and golden age. This they had appeared to rediscover when, defending a moderate score, they had taken 9 South African wickets for 47 runs in just over an hour after lunch yesterday.
Normalcy, or the new normal, is the Post Waugh/Post Galactics period, which reared back into view immediately after their defiant bowling performance when the Australian batsmen surrendered their ten wickets for 47 runs.
Dropping a straightforward chance from Amla in the gully to the last ball of the day had surrendered a huge psychological advantage and now, as Day Three began in bright and drying sunshine, they dropped him again, this time to first slip’s left.
South Africado not have to worry about adjusting to new circumstances. They are ‘same old, same old’ and in Graeme Smith they have the best batsman in the world to accept the mission of scoring big in the fourth innings of a match.
Amla, his perfect partner, may not have been many people’s second choice for such a task but given three goes he was not about to let down his captain or his country.
His simple and effective trigger of a small right-footed step-back-and-across followed by a forward press brings him to the pitch of the ball. He has the same kind of back lift that Bradman is said to have had. The willow blade journeys out towards gully before circling round and down to punch or drive the ball with exquisite timing. His wrists work like Draavid’s to persuade the ball fine or to meet it full faced. Today he threaded the field at will.
Where Smith’s innings had the single pace of a metronome, Amla’s accelerated like a toboggan on the Cresta Run. When he was finally caught by Clarke in the gully he had made 112 and taken his side to within 14 runs of victory. Soon after, Smith completed his deserved hundred and then struck the winning blow.
Point: Australia began their second innings leading by the not inconsiderable margin of 188 runs (the old normal) and lost the match by the large margin of 8 wickets (the new normal). Final Score Card.