Hashim Amla secured his third Test double-hundred on the fourth morning in Cape Town as he guided South Africa towards safety in the second Test. By lunch, he was 200 not out, the latest interlude in an innings that has spanned 467 balls and around 12 hours. South Africa trailed by 201 runs, the follow-on, to all intents and purposes, safely avoided.
Amla’s concentration was admirable, his defensive technique impeccable, and as a Test captain he had answered his country in times of need, but in cricket when the situation is dead the game is dead and this Test has become a dreary affair, a stalemate from which there is no escape until the end of tomorrow.
Nine wickets have fallen so far for 1057 runs, a runs-per-wicket ratio more than the twice the next highest for a Test in South Africa. Even 37C temperatures have failed to bring any signs of disintegration in this surface. Alastair Cook, England’s captain, is already giving his pace bowlers as light a workload as he can with the rest of the series in mind.
England have had little glimpses of opportunity, most glaringly when Amla miscued Moeen Ali down the ground on 197 and was fortunate that the ball dropped safely between the two straight fielders. A ball later, he soft-shoe shuffled a single through mid-on. Applause rippled around Newlands. It was the moment the crowd had been waiting for. They had done little else but wait all morning.
Faf du Plessis also went into lunch with hopes of a restorative hundred. He was 81 not out, his most anxious moment coming when he edged a full-length ball from Moeen past James Anderson at slip. For the second time in the innings, the ball flew too rapidly past Anderson who was hunting an edge from a defensive push – a theory which, although events conspired against it, did possess a certain amount of logic.
This Test has passed through recognisable phases. It began with excitement, as Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow batted at an astounding rate on a flat surface nevertheless offering decent pace and bounce. It became a challenge of concentration as Amla stiffened South African sinews in the face of England’s 629 for 6. And, on the fourth day, with that pace and bounce a distant memory, it became a process of repetition.
Old timers wallowed in memories of big scores of days gone by, England fans crept away to climb Table Mountain and there was a terrible temptation to switch TV channels and watch the Big Bash pack them in again in Adelaide. Even the Indian schoolboy who has scored 1009 not out in Mumbai must have been under greater threat.
Somewhere there will be a connoisseur of the Test game who will claim that the fourth morning was wonderfully fulfilling. For all Amla’s craftsmanship, not many would agree. This is becoming the Test with no reason to live.