IN SOUTH Africa's ever-changing social and political landscape, Boxing Day has become the Day of Goodwill. However, the nation's cricketers have been cautioned not to take the new name too literally as they start the third Test match against the West Indies here today.
They are already 2-0 ahead in the series of five Tests and, with their opponents in obvious disarray, the prospects of an unprecedented 5-0 clean sweep have been repeatedly trumpeted in the media.
The South Africa captain, Hansie Cronje, and his players have reason to be more wary. Leading 1-0 in their series in England last summer, they were only denied an extension of their advantage by tail-end resistance at Old Trafford, after which they lost at Trent Bridge and Headingley. It was a reversal that has served as a salutary warning.
"They have five match-winners in their team who could turn any game around so we are not going to be complacent," Cronje said. "I can't comment on their state of mind or the atmosphere in the camp since I haven't been following them since the second Test, but one thing we can't afford is to believe they are unable to bounce back."
Cronje is about the only one who has felt constrained to express an opinion on the plight of the West Indies, whose cricket throughout the tour has been abysmal. They are yet to win a first-class match and, in addition to their defeats in the two Tests, lost to Free State, who achieved a winning second-innings target of 438.
They touched rock bottom in the second Test, when they folded for 121 in 37.3 overs and 141 in 38.2 overs and lost by 178 runs in barely more than two and a half days cricket.
That prompted media speculation of rifts within the team and angry criticism back in the Caribbean, where a series against a still all-white South African team in the erstwhile home of apartheid has implications beyond the boundary.
The pitiful performances of players whose pre-emptive strike over pay and conditions initially placed the tour in jeopardy has heightened the public wrath.
Brian Lara's reinstatement as captain after he was originally dismissed by the Board was one of the central issues in the pre-tour dispute. He now faces one of the most critical matches of his controversial career following his team's poor form and his own failure with the bat with scores of 11, 7, 4 and 39.
A measure of his diminishing self-belief came in the second innings of the second Test, when he demoted himself to No.5, where he has indicated he will stay
He passed over the chance of some match practice between Tests by missing the rain-affected game against South Africa A. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who is likely to take his place at No.3, is not one to pass up such opportunities and his chanceless 182 was a boost for the West Indies.
There has not been much else for them to enthuse over as they continue to rely heavily on their great but ageing fast bowlers, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, and not much else.
It will take a massive change of mood and form for them to turn things around on a pitch, like those in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, likely to aid the probing consistency of South Africa's fast bowlers and united and confident team.
South Africa (from): G Kirsten, H Gibbs, J Kallis, D Cullinan, H Cronje (captain), J Rhodes, S Pollock, M Boucher, P Symcox, A Donald, D Terbrugge, P Adams.
West Indies (from): C Lambert, S Williams, P Wallace, B Lara (captain), S Chanderpaul, C Hooper, D Ganga, F Reifer, J Murray, R Jacobs, C Ambrose, C Walsh, N McLean, M Dillon, F Rose, R Lewis.Reuse content