At this time of the year, when South African cricket is bracing for trouble ahead of the World Cup squad being picked (with CSA aiming to have seven players of colour in the team), it makes for an ironic and intriguing story that on this day, the South African innings was rebuilt primarily because of two innings under pressure by players of colour.
At stumps (called early due to bad light) on Day One of the second Test, South Africa would have been very relieved at what they had — 257/8 is a lot on a wicket where the groundsman says the bounce will only get steeper. If you factor in the detail that they had lost their top three batsmen with only 28 on board, it is very impressive — especially after their best batsman, Jacques Kallis, had been declared unfit for this must-win Test.
While Mark Boucher contributed a fighting 53 later, that South Africa got to where they were was thanks first to a crucial partnership of 94 for the fourth wicket between Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince, as unlike as chalk and cheese in the way they play and, apparently, in the way they conduct their personal lives (Gibbs has a flamboyant rock-star lifestyle that matches his on-field dramatics while Prince is reputedly as steady off the field as he is patient on it). But both are united by one important factor in this country where so much is ruled by race — the colour of their skin.
Interestingly enough, both players with an abundance of talent have been at the centre of the quota controversy at different times and for different reasons. Cricketing pundits here would have it that on several occasions, Gibbs' place in the squad was saved despite patchy performances not just because of his undoubted ability but also because of his being coloured.
Prince, likewise, South Africa's first Test captain of colour (he deputised for the injured Smith in Sri Lanka earlier this year) has been dogged by the issue despite some extremely good performances by any standard. It is an issue that once upset him so much that he reportedly stood up at a packed convention and announced that if he were picked to play for his country because of the colour of his skin, then he didn't want to play at all.
When the duo came together in the 13th over at the fall of AB de Villiers, the Proteas were in a mess. India were on a high, the huddle was almost a living, throbbing mass of energy and Zaheer Khan had sniffed blood and was on a rampage.
He had got Smith (who will now be addressed as Zaheer's bunny) by banging in a short one that had the Proteas skipper pivot on his heel to pull it, mistime and get a top edge. It went up over slips and Tendulkar, running backward from first slip, took a lovely catch. Soon after, Hashim Amla disappointed his home crowd when he failed to read a ball that moved in a bit and was trapped plumb in front. Sreesanth, initially somewhat subdued, perked up to give Boucher a mouthful before castling him and then got de Villiers too.
Somewhat edgy at first, Prince and Gibbs soon settled, refused to get bogged down and set about justifying Smith's decision to bat after winning the toss. It was a somewhat surprising decision but his middle and lower order batsmen have given his experienced attack a decent total to defend, so if they bowl well, it will probably be hailed as a very brave one, like Dravid's in Jo’burg.
Meanwhile, for India, Zaheer bowled superbly while the back-up wasn't that bad either. Sreesanth looked better as the day went on, Kumble got stuck into the tail and young VRV Singh (Munaf did not play after he reportedly declared himself less than match-fit) was frequently clocked at 140-plus but perhaps got a little carried away with the pace and bounce.
He got Pollock later but was unlucky not to have Prince (at 41) when the batsman edged to slips and Tendulkar muffed a sharp chance. In pain, Tendulkar left soon after for an X-ray on his right hand but it is okay, no more than a bruised thumb.
Now much depends on how India bat when they start their innings, which they would probably sometime early Wednesday.