Time stands still for some‚ but not for Aiden Markram
It was 11.19am on Sunday everywhere except on Kingsmead’s scoreboard‚ which was making a furious attempt to turn back time.
Out on the field AB de Villiers was trudging back to the dressingroom having been dismissed without putting bat to ball‚ or perhaps even thought to brain.
But in video footage on the scoreboard’s big screen he was in rapid reverse‚ scurrying backward towards the middle from where he had come‚ perchance to resume an innings that had not quite begun.
There was no fake news in the rest of what onlookers could glean.
South Africa were indeed 39/3 inside the first hour of their journey towards the 417 they needed to beat Australia in the first test.
And that really was De Villiers‚ the only player who looked like he knew what he was doing in an otherwise dismal first innings‚ exiting stage left.
De Villiers’ unbeaten 71 had comprised almost half South Africa’s total of 162.
In the second dig he was run out having faced a solitary ball after calling Markram for a single backward of short leg; a run that never was‚ especially as the fielder who swooped was David Warner.
It was De Villiers’ call‚ but Markram was correct to send him back. De Villiers slipped as he turned and was more than a metre short of his ground when Warner’s throw smacked into Nathan Lyon’s hands and the bails tumbled.
“David Warner’s one of the best fielders in the world and as soon as I saw it was him I didn’t think it was a run‚” Markram said after stumps.
“It happened really quickly in the heat of the moment.”
“It wasn’t nice to be at the other end watching AB get run out.”
Maybe Markram should get used to it‚ because that was De Villiers’ 14th involvement in a runout in test cricket.
Only Jacques Kallis‚ who featured in 15‚ has been a victim more often in a South Africa shirt.
Thing is‚ Kallis had 95 more innings than De Villiers.
At his dismissal‚ the Australians whipped themselves into a wild‚ whooping whirlwind with Warner visceral in his raw yawping.
Had he done something like that on a public street‚ an ambulance would have been called. Or the police. Or even a vet who knows how to do deal with random cases of rabies.
Then the Australians turned on Markram.
“We spoke to Aiden about running out the best player in his team and one of the best players in the world‚” wicketkeeper Tim Paine explained with scarcely believable politeness.
“We were just trying to get him off his game.
“It didn’t work.”
Hell no it didn’t. Indeed Markram said he relished that part of the challenge: “It’s something I certainly don’t mind‚ something that really keeps me in the game; keeps me going‚ keeps me motivated.
“It’s how the game should be played and it makes success that bit more rewarding.
“What happened did affect me‚ and you hear every word out on the field.”
“It’ll keep coming for the rest of the series but I enjoy it.”
There was a lot for Markram to enjoy.
At one point of this death in the afternoon Mitchell Starc egged on a baying crowd with hand gestures that said “bring it” as he walked back to his mark at the Umgeni End.
One member of that crowd was waving at him‚ with clear malevolence‚ an inflatable sheep.
Even so it seemed no-one could keep South Africa in the game after the thorn De Villiers represented was drawn from Australia’s paw.
But Markram‚ with the help of Theunis de Bruyn and Quinton de Kock‚ played an innings of wonder‚ a thing that stirred something in South Africans’ blood that they last felt … who knows when.
It moved Ali Bacher enough for him to call‚ unsolicited‚ a reporter in the pressbox and gush with praise for a young man he put in the league of Kallis and Barry Richards.
For all the elegance he showed‚ the essence of Markram’s innings was captured in consecutive deliveries bowled to him by Pat Cummins‚ the fifth and sixth he faced after reaching his century.
The first clanged him on the helmet‚ close enough to the gloves he rose in defiant defence to prompt the Aussies to send their unsuccessful appeal for caught behind to the third umpire.
Having had the temerity not to be dismissed by that delivery‚ Markram was immediately punished by a brutish ball that smashed into his front elbow‚ which promptly swelled up lumpily and looked as if an octopus had taken rude residence under the skin of his forearm.
After receiving treatment on the field‚ he batted on. Of course he did.
It was a properly South African century‚ equal parts blood and guts and glory.
And it was ended by a thoroughly South African moment of dofness. Paine was standing up to Mitchell Marsh‚ who found the edge as Markram tried to run a delivery down to third man.
Why that? Why then?
“It was a little bit loose‚ a little bit out of my game plan‚” Markram admitted.
“Often that costs you your wicket.”
It did. Paine took a fine catch and the fairytale that was Markram’s 143‚ and the stand of 147 he shared with a magnificently resolute De Kock‚ was over.
After that drama came the farce. Starc removed Vernon Philander‚ Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada in five balls to reduce South Africa to 290/9 and to earn a crack at a hat-trick.
Trouble was‚ fading light forced the Australians to resort to spin from both ends just to stay on the park.
So spectators were treated to South Africa’s last pair‚ De Kock and Morne Morkel‚ doing their best to do as little as possible at the crease and the Australians doing the best to balance the conflict of interests that was winning on Sunday and prolonging the game until Monday morning — when Starc could let fly again‚ surely with the new nut.
For the second time on Sunday‚ and until the umpires called a halt in Kingsmead’s first (unofficially) day/night test at 5.54pm‚ time itself marked time.