Jacques Rudolph saved his side with an admirably defiant innings here yesterday against opponents who failed to drive home their advantage and had to settle for a drawn first Test.
Altogether the trim left-hander occupied the crease for 431 minutes. It was a noble and unerring effort. Not once did the youngster wilt under the pressure or wave his bat outside off-stick. As far as the unimaginative Australians were concerned he bore a disconcerting resemblance to an immovable object.
Rudolph began the day with much to prove. Had Jacques Kallis been fit he would have been asked to carry the drinks. Since South Africa's leading batsman is expected to play on Boxing Day, he knew his hour had come. Rudolph may also remember the pain he was put through on his previous visit to Australia. Selected as a promising reserve, he was chosen to play in the third Test in Sydney. Overjoyed by the prospect of representing his country, he went to bed a happy man.
When the team was presented to Percy Sonn, the president of the Board, it was rejected. Sonn pointed out that the series had been lost and reminded the selectors that in these circumstances they were expected to introduce a black player. Rudolph, informed that his place had been taken by Justin Ontong, was devastated.
A lesser man would have taken umbrage and moved to England. Fortunately, Rudolph's desire to serve his country is as strong as his faith. Before long he had fought his way back into the side. Yesterday his concentration was not upset even by the loss of Herschelle Gibbs to a careless push played without any significant footwork and Ashwell Prince, again trapped on the back foot by Shane Warne, the home leg-spinner. He erected a barricade around his stumps, emerging periodically to drive through the covers.
Rudolph did not work alone. Justin Kemp provided stern support throughout the afternoon session and into the final hour before Warne enticed an edge to silly point. Rudolph was also helped by a slow wicket unaffected by cracks or dust. Nor did the Australians attack with the anticipated gusto. Given a hurtfully long first spell of 18 overs, and concentrating mostly on the rough, Warne was only sporadically dangerous. Brett Lee sent down unstinting reverse-swingers. Glenn McGrath hardly beat the bat while Nathan Bracken's swingers were undemanding.
Astonishingly, Andrew Symonds was not invited to try off-spin into the footholds until 100 overs had been bowled. By delaying their declaration, failing to change the bowling around and setting dull fields, Ricky Ponting played his part.
South Africa must also have been relieved that the umpire Billy Doctrove did not lose his nerve. Not even Warne's most impassioned appeals rattled the genial newcomer. Rudolph left the field to a deserved ovation and with the unique satisfaction felt by those who have pitted themselves against formidable odds and lived to tell the tale.
* South African officials officially have complained about racial abuse by small groups of fans at the Waca during the first Test. The South Africans reported the verbal abuse directed at Prince, Garnett Kruger, Shaun Pollock, Justin Kemp and Makhaya Ntini during the third day. Security was stepped up at South Africa's request for the remainder of the match. "There is no place in Australian cricket for racism," said the Cricket Australia official, Peter Young.Reuse content