Vernon Philander. Picture: REUTERS/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE
Vernon Philander. Picture: REUTERS/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE

With the morning nearly done, with the crowd trickling in and the SA batsmen trying not to trickle out on the third day of the final Test against England, a portly gentleman of an indefinite age stretched out on a bench on the wooden stands near the scoreboard for a Sunday snooze.

It was suggested he may have either overimbibed the night before or, more impressively and rather frighteningly, a little earlier that morning. He slept hard in the morning sun, one leg dangling, the other anchoring him to the bench.

There is a chance Sleeping Man may have been awake for Vernon Philander’s splash-and-dash innings in the first over of the day, when Philander neither splashed nor dashed.

This, as we have been reminded every 15 minutes, is Philander’s final Test before he heads off to the great Kolpak sunset. The emotion around his last time out has been a small distraction from the uncertain present and future of the Proteas.

Just what part his departure will play in that, whether negatively or positively, whether it leaves a hole or an opportunity for someone, remains to be seen.

At about 11am, Quinton de Kock, very much the positive present and future of the Proteas, caused Sleeping Man to stir and look to his right from his prone position as he ripped off a boundary. Sleeping Man sat up for a spell, letting the blood roll down to his feet, before he decided that, like Philander’s loose shot, it was not such a good idea, and lay down again.

He was blunt: the players knew what they needed to do, but they weren’t doing it

He was horizontal again when the cameras swung to the seats outside the Long Room at 11.30am, where Cricket SA’s acting CEO, Jacques Faul, was seen in deep and animated conservation with the temporary director of cricket, Graeme Smith.

Faul spoke with his hands and his arms, strident and forceful. Smith moved his hands in a way that suggested a gap that existed and what it would take to close it. He ended his point with a small, forced smile. Both are under no illusions as to the state of SA cricket, its woes and its potential.

Smith has brought in those who were around the previous time SA cricket embarked on a new path after a period in the doldrums, when he and Mickey Arthur, then the coach of SA, set out on a journey after the 2007 World Cup that would right a listing team and peak with an away Test series win in Australia.

Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis were part of that journey. Before the start of play on Sunday, Kallis spoke to SuperSport about the flailing, failing batting of his team. He was blunt: the players knew what they needed to do, but they weren’t doing it. He was already speaking about working hard in the off season, of re-engineering and rebooting befuddled minds and techniques.

Kallis was defiant about the prospects of this Test, though. The one thing he knew about this team, he said, was that they knew how to fight.

One wonders what he said when Philander felt his hamstring and ambled off to the changeroom after lunch when he was needed for the fight. Perhaps, like the 438 ODI game with which the Proteas won the series against Australia, he thinks England are 15 shy.

Next tier

At lunch, Smith sat with three other SuperSport commentators in the Unity Stand.

There was, he said, a need to identify who the next tier of players are. They needed to find, build and mentor them so “we don’t reach this point again”.

Mike Atherton, who showed the very fight SA need in that extraordinary Test at the end of 1995 when he batted for 643min, tried to rub some salve on SA’s wounds, saying that “every country has their ebbs and flows” in form.

SA are very much in the ebb part of that curve, agreed commentators Shaun Pollock and Mark Nicholas. Admitting you have a problem is the first real step in finding a cure.

Sleeping Man staggered off the cheap seats as Joburg’s afternoon sun bore down on him, his hat pulled down hard, his bag clutched to his chest. He disappeared behind the stand, heading, like Philander, for climates cooler and, like SA, for an unsure future that will involve a hangover of some stature.

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