One of the main complaints cricket lovers receive about their game is how it can go on for five days and yet no-one wins. What’s the point? is the cry. Evander and I talk about this in our book, Right Off the Bat, but we hope a little case study might make our argument for us. Australia and South Africa are currently battling it out over who will be the Number One Test team in the world. South Africa hold the title at the moment and Australia are third, hoping to leapfrog England and assume what they deem to be their rightful position at the top.
Australia have had a pretty good year so far, and South Africa’s touring side has been plagued with injuries. So when Australia dominated the second Test match in Brisbane, it didn’t come as a huge shock—even though Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith did their mighty best to stop the slide. All looked in vain at the opening of the fifth day, when South Africa were 77 for 4 wickets, requiring a world-record-430 to beat Australia. Australia, on the other hand, would only need six wickets to win: six balls out of a minimum of 540 in the day’s play. It seemed merely a matter of time before Australia would seal the deal and go 1–0 up in the series.
Here’s where the glory that is the non-result result comes in. South Africa faced a choice: they could either try and get the remaining 353 runs—not an insuperable task, although pretty damn close—and risk losing the match by playing loose shots; or they could knuckle down and try not to lose all six wickets in the allotted number of balls remaining—almost just as hard. The latter would require almost superhuman concentration, given that each ball of the 540 would be freighted with maximal pressure. Could South Africa save the game and live to fight another day?
Yes! is the extraordinary, astonishing answer—although at the end, South Africa only had two wickets out of six remaining. Several of the South African batsmen put up stiff resistance, but none more so than the previously cavalier and daredevil Faf (François to his mother) du Plessis, who batted in all for almost seven-and-a-half hours for his unbeaten first century. As he dragged himself off the pitch after facing 376 balls, commentators were already calling his performance and the game it took place in the greatest they’d seen in years. Faf was lauded by the notoriously intemperate Australian press, and everyone exhaled with the kind of pleasure that only eight hours of uninterrupted tension can provide. And at the end of it all the only winner was the game of Test cricket!