And that is the information we knew upon entering the final day of a five day test match against England. On day 4 South Africa ran up a large lead in runs which they assumed (correctly in this case) that England would not be able to catch up to the rather large lead with only a single day of play remaining. Toward the end of day four, with more wickets (outs) remaining in their 2nd inning, South Africa “declared” they were finished and started the Brits on their second inning of batting. Remember each team has to COMPLETE two innings, and the sooner SA started England on their second inning, the sooner South Africa could call themselves champions. Therefore we started day 5 with South Africa looking to get a quick 9 wickets (they got the first wicket at the end of the day 4 when England started their second inning) to win the game. England was only looking to hold out for the day in order to force the draw.
The brother of our CS host was only too happy to oblige us with a visit to the cricket test. As he pointed out, he’d just be watching it at home anyhow so might as well come to the stadium instead. There was a relatively small seating area and the rest of the fans, us included, in general admission sprawled out on the grass with blankets, lawn chairs, and enjoyed the day barefoot in the grass. There was a Braai pit for those who brought their own meat to Braai but as we’d not gone in that fancy I settled for an almost as as good Boerewors instead. Most amazing of all, the ticket to enter cost us about $4 each.
Before they set foot in the stadium that day, England had almost no chance of winning. They could have tried to score enough runs to get into the lead but with only one day it was unlikely at best. For us Americans watching I felt as if I was watching the Yankees play a game 7 in their 2003 World Series against the Florida Marlins, when the Yankees had already lost the series in game 6. OK, that’s not a perfect analogy but who doesn’t enjoy knocking the Yankees from time to time? We decided that this, with the slow slow speed of the game, is why cricket (at least the 5 day test-match) probably won’t ever make it in the states.
The game started and before long South Africa scored their 2nd and then their 3rd wicket. Only 7 more to go until they could call themselves winners, but thats when the wickets stopped. The pair of batsmen that were up (called a partnership) scored well over 100 runs between them and remember, they weren’t trying to score runs, they were just trying to stay there all day long. Finally their star batsman made a critical mistake (he ran for a run after hitting a short ball when he should have stayed put) and the South African who had bowled that ball picked it up and ran it into the wickets to get the out.
After that the wickets just kept falling. South Africa with about 4 overs remaining (I can’t remember exactly, it was a long day in the sun…over 80 had already been pitched) scored the 9th of their 10 wickets. This would be the equivalent of being down all game and suddenly scoring your tieing run and having the winning run on third base in the bottom of the ninth. Unfortunately for England, they didn’t exactly have their best batsmen out on the pitch (those guys had gotten out long ago) but unfortunately for South Africa, those two fellas did the job and protected the wickets for the final overs. After 5 days in blistering heat, England had one mere wicket remaining on its 2nd inning, and that was enough to keep us and all the South Africans around us, from celebrating a victory. Ties suck.