A long day of lost potential for West Indies

Marlon Samuels ends up on his back against Morne Morkel Associated Press

The longest second: waiting for the lift doors to open to escape a stranger's space. The longest minute: the kettle whistling as the water reaches boiling point. The longest hour: the last on a long-haul flight. The longest session: The 48.2 overs bowled in four hours on the fourth day of the New Year's Test between South Africa and West Indies.

Only the last of those is not an exaggeration. It really was one of the longest sessions, in terms of time and overs.

After rain washed out the morning and early afternoon, the umpires were allowed to extend the final session in unprecedented fashion. With the clause limiting the time for a session to no more than two-and-a-half-hours removed and the generous daylight of a Cape Town summer, play could continue past cocktails and almost encroach on dinner-time without any interruptions, in order to "maximise the playing hours", as an ICC spokesperson put it. Lunch and tea were moved forward so the game could do the same and it would not feel like the longest day.

For the first four-and-a-half hours, that's what it was shaping up to be as rain swept through the stadium, steaming in from both sides of the grandstand in the swirling wind. The teams had seen enough of that in Port Elizabeth and did not want to resort to change-room cricket and idle chat again, so they stayed away until there was a chance of play.

Dead time can kill a competitive spirit and West Indies, who would have been holed up in hotel rooms, had to guard against that. They could not.

Overnight, they were in a decent position. They had two settled batsmen at the crease, had whittled down the deficit to the point of turning it into a lead and could seriously challenge South Africa for a share of the series spoils. They did not need anything to interrupt that flow, especially not a lengthy rain delay.

Grey, gurgling skies over a generous gust encourage lethargy in all its forms. The legs and eyelids grow heavy, the brain foggy and the reflexes slow. The idea of waiting until tomorrow to do anything seems far more tempting than emerging from a semi-slumber to concentrate. And when the ball is coming at you at pace, 140 kmph, you need to concentrate.

Everyone except Marlon Samuels and, to a lesser degree, Shivnarine Chanderpaul knew that. The rest, bar Denesh Ramdin, do not have the experience to call on for this kind of situation, which is why it was up to the three stalwarts to build West Indies a lead on which they could look for a victory. Samuels seemed the likeliest to do that.

He is the type of player who rubs South Africa up the wrong way. He straddles the line between talent and arrogance a little too tightly and he talks a good game on top of all that. So South Africa did their talking with the ball. Dale Steyn banged it in short, Morne Morkel went full, and induced an edge, and Vernon Philander appealed for a catch which the umpires referred. Samuels' response at first was to pull, drive and react so dismissively to the prospect of getting out that he almost suffered that fate off the next ball when he flayed loosely.

Samuels, however, did not always get to emerge as the cooler cat. He was hit on the back by Steyn, almost on the face by Morkel and consistently tested by Philander. It's hardly a surprise then, that the one person he felt comfortable against was Simon Harmer, who he eventually played with too much freedom. Samuels was the perfect Shakespearean character - the architect of his own demise - and the opening South Africa needed.

With him gone, their longest day ended and West Indies' began. Again. For the third time in the series, their lower order gave way in spite of a more assured showing from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. If that was his last innings in South Africa, at least he left with a half-century but he did not marshal the lower-order the way senior batsman should. He played a tentative innings and edged the fourth ball he faced to gully, but it dropped just short. He was given out on 10 but reviewed successfully. He was foxed by spin and offered a chance to AB de Villiers when he was on 33.

In the middle of that struggle, West Indies lost all the rest. What started out as a day of promise, faded into another day of lost potential. They ended up with a total they may not be able to defend, because South Africa's attack were not prepared to give their batsmen a long final day. And that is the difference between a No. 1-ranked side and a No. 8 side - one of them knows that even the longest second, the longest minute, the longest hour and the longest session will end and is willing to fight through it.