DURBAN – It remains one of the most intimidating aspects in the game. Dale Steyn tearing in from one end, a picture of ink, sling and deadly intent.
And then, six balls later, Kagiso Rabada gliding in, delivering sobering slices of sincerity. Apart, they are two of the very best that the game has ever known.
Together, though, they are a delicious double-act, capable of wreaking havoc across all surfaces. They have a way with leather, generally making it talk at speeds nudging the 150 clicks an hour range.
At that pace, then, there is very little room for small talk. To be a batsman, 22 yards away from them, is a test of many things. Courage, skill, character. More courage.
We generally see opposition batsmen being put through the ringer at the crease, and there is little thought paid to what their own teammates go through at practice. Yesterday morning, as most of us settled back into the routine of the working week, Steyn and Rabada confronted Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar.
It was just after 11am, when Ruth and Nonhlanhla are usually passing around the sandwiches made from Sunday’s leftovers, and chatting about how their sons fared in Saturday school sport.
That would be in a normal office, of course. In the workplace of Elgar and Markram, however, there was no small talk.
Coach Ottis Gibson chucked gleaming pieces of leather to his chief assassins, and then cut them loose on a track that can only be described as lively.
A proper Test would never play out on there because, well, because the ICC still preaches about the virtues of an even contest between bat and ball.
In the court of Gibson, however, a burst of adrenalin is allowed from time to time. Steyn, warming up to his work, was bowling boomerangs; the sort of leg-cutting sickles that scythe batsmen in half.
More than once, Markram was squared up to face mid-on, chest on, as the Kookaburra clattered into the netting behind him.
Every three balls or so, he and Elgar would jog a single, letting the other face the music.
Part-time rapper and full-time rabble rouser Rabada was spitting rhymes on a length, making it a crime to connect.
All Elgar and Markram could do was smile ruefully, safe in the knowledge that it could only get better in the actual match.
Eventually, after a half hour of menace, Gibson called up the net bowlers, youngsters from the Academy and the amateur team. Rabada and Steyn sucked on energy drinks and glistened grievous grins at each other, in a manner not dissimilar to how Bakkies Botha would smirk at Bismarck du Plessis, after a bruising passage of play.
Elgar and Markram drove and cut the extras with relish, and the rest of the practice wore on. Later in the piece, beyond lunch at canteens around South Africa, Sri Lanka turned up.
Before they continued their preparation, Angelo Perera faced the media. He spoke of his 2013 visit to SA with the A team, as a 20-year-old making his way in the game.
He touched on making a pair of double hundreds in the same game recently. And then, he spoke about how he is looking forward to facing all of the SA bowlers if he gets a chance in the middle-order.
Given his unassuming enthusiasm, it is just as well that he wasn’t at Kingsmead around 11am.
The first Test between SA and Sri Lanka starts tomorrow at Kingsmead.
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