Joshua da Silva had a birthday on Labour Day, Day Two of the Second Test between West Indies and South Africa. His former skipper Jason Holder will turn 30 on November 5 so yesterday would have been his unbirthday.
He celebrated it in style, giving the side he once captained a fighting chance in a game which, by the end of Day Two, had looked well and truly lost. He did not take a five-fer or make a century. His was a less concrete contribution. But it rivalled Kyle Mayers’ impressive and important 9-2-24-3 and the four South African scalps Kemar Roach claimed—with more than a little help from Holder’s safe hands.
The Proteas’ number eight, Keshav Maharaj, prodded forward to a Jayden Seales leg-cutter. As the ball flew off the edge of his bat, Holder, at second slip, flung himself low to his right and reeled it in in the palm of his right hand.
The score read 73 for 7.
There was no gauge to measure it but you could tell that the team spirit needle was reading F. The spontaneous explosion of joy with effusive hugs and congratulatory handshakes and vigorous pats on the back left the issue beyond doubt.
For the first time in the match, you could tell, Brathwaite’s West Indians were feeling pretty certain that they were really back in the game.
The recovery had started early, Holder pouching an edge off Aidan Markram’s bat in Roach’s first over. And when two or three overs later, Roach induced a similar error from Dean Elgar, for the second time, Holder made no mistake.
On his unbirthday.
In case you were wondering, ‘unbirthday’ is not a Best original; I borrowed it from Lewis Carroll, who probably knows little or nothing about the game of glorious uncertainties. But his name often comes up when I am discussing West Indies cricket with a friend of mine, whom we shall call Sours.
In Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll has Humpty-Dumpty and later the Mad Hatter explain what an ‘unbirthday’ is. According to them, because there are 364 of those and only one birthday, it’s better to celebrate the former and not the latter. It makes a lot of sense.
Which is precisely what Sours argues.
He pooh-poohs any suggestion that John Campbell, say, or Shamarh Brooks or Jermaine Blackwood will come good ‘on their day’.
“Don’t tell me about what they can and will do then,” he says. “What I am interested in is what they do when it is NOT their day, on their unbirthday! Like Shivnarine Chanderpaul.”
Holder, the ICC’s current top-rated all-rounder, recently complained publicly that he had not been pleased with the manner of his replacement by Kraigg Braithwaite, his former deputy. The Board, he felt, had not handled the transfer of power well.
Is a good ting, is my reaction. The 6’7” former Test and ODI captain seems to have found his true self as a result.
During the two drawn Test matches against Sri Lanka in March, none was more boisterously vocal than he. And although he has managed only 13 wickets, 5/27 and 4/75 of note with the ball in the First Test of the two 2021 series so far and a total of 162 runs in seven innings, with only 71 not out of substance in the second innings of the Sri Lanka Second Test, one doesn’t get the impression that he is not pulling his weight.
The immense feeling of delight-cum-relief you sensed had washed over the region when he had the in-form Quinton de Kock caught at the wicket by da Silva took us all back to the feel-good Clive Lloyd/Viv Richards era. Or the exhilarating 52-run victory in Kensington Oval in April 1992.
So the tourists were tottering at 53 for 5. With the first innings lead 149, they were just 202 runs ahead and deep in the doo-doo.
And 20 runs and two wickets later, at 73 for 7, they were dead, dead, dead, ready for cremation over a Babylon fire.
Van der Dussen can only bat at one end. Patax, Rabada gone! Patax, Nortje gone! Patax, Ngidi gone! It is all over.
Well, that is not quite how it went. Rabada muscled his way to 40 and VdD used his head to remain unbeaten on 77.
That left a target of 324. Much higher than seemed possible at 53 for 5 and 73 for 7 but—the full half of the glass—much lower than seemed likely the evening before with a lead of 149.
Already, we have weathered the end-of-Day-Three storm and knocked 15 runs off the target. Only 209 more to go.
And in our line-up, we have three men with experience of being in this come-from-behind fourth innings situation.
Shai Hope (118) and the skipper (95) beat England in England in 2017. And in partnership with Nkrumah Bonner (86), Mayers put together a splendid 210 not out on debut in Bangladesh last year to pull the châtaignes out of the fire for WI.
And that ketch, boy, that ketch! We cyar let that flying one-hand ketch count fuh nutten!
Jason Holder would never forgive we, not on he birthday or on he unbirthday.