Lungi Ngidi. Picture: REUTERS
Lungi Ngidi. Picture: REUTERS

After the drubbing the Proteas, the national men’s cricket team, received at the hands of the Australians last Friday, the collective mood of cricket lovers across the country was indeed very low. Coming as it did after losing a tight T20 series to the English, after a thrashing in the Tests, did not help matters. As one supporter said, after being challenged about how serious the situation was, “it is not life and death, it is more important than that”.

One all-time favourite T-shirt at a cricket match had as its inscription “I support any team that is playing against Australia”. This is true — matches between SA and the Aussies have a special type of tension. Normally they are very competitive indeed. While it is not the Holy Grail of Test cricket, the recent spate of T20 internationals have been vastly entertaining and, thankfully, have seen spectators returning to the stadiums to watch the games.

The collective anxiety of cricket lovers was palpable at the  halfway stage, but Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada excelled as the Aussies fell 12 runs short.

It must also be said that the crowds have been remarkably sporting, if not downright forgiving, in their attitude to this Australian team. It must be remembered that the two most prominent members of the team are former captain Steve Smith and top batsman David Warner, both of whom were involved in that scandalous ball-tampering incident during a Test match in Cape Town about two years ago.

Most teams fiddle with the ball in one way or another, from using sweat and even spit (after chewing sticky sweets), but to send a player onto the field with a piece of sandpaper really was beyond the pale and both men deserved a bit of “sledging” from the crowd. But apparently this has not happened. Had the roles been reversed, a SA team would have been savaged by a Sydney crowd, no doubt.

Sunday’s match was astonishing. SA batted first and, in spite of Quinton de Kock’s heroics, made a very modest 147. On paper the Aussies should have made this score easily, particularly if the Proteas were to have bowled as badly as they had in the first game. The collective anxiety of cricket lovers was palpable at the  halfway stage, but Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada excelled as the Aussies fell 12 runs short. Great stuff. It’s early days, but the brand-new management team at Cricket SA must be feeling a tad relieved.

Now for the deciding third match of the series at Newlands in Cape Town on Wednesday. Hopefully the fractious Cape spectators won’t be too rude to Smith and Warner and there will be another really close game.

It should also be noted that the women Proteas won a historic game in the World Cup tournament being played in Australia, where they beat England for the first time in their history. The English are one of the powerhouses in the women’s game and the win should stand our women in good stead for the rest of the tournament. This victory, as in the men’s game, was all about steely resolve and character under pressure.

The character of Mignon du Preez, hitting a six and a four in the last over to win the game, was exceptional. Now for their second game of the tournament on Friday, against Thailand. Imagine the women Proteas adding a T20 World Cup to the Rugby World Cup we already have. Tremendous if it happens.

Of course, it begs the question as to why this is important. After all, it is only a game. The gloom of the floundering economy and all the other major issues facing the country are in danger of becoming a source of incurable national depression. Just like with SA’s amazing victory in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, while not nearly as significant as becoming the world champions, these two cricket matches represent bright spots on the horizon and an opportunity to enjoy being South African again. This before the dark clouds of the national budget, the almost inevitable downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service and the next round of load-shedding take the shine off and return us all to “normal”.