Cape Town – Sacrificing both opening batsmen, including the
in-form Dean Elgar, before stumps on Thursday certainly wouldn’t have been in
the South African battle-plan.
But there is a case for arguing that the Proteas may,
nevertheless, still slightly command the aces over New Zealand ahead of day two
of the second Test in Wellington.
Following the closely-fought, eventually weather-curtailed
draw in the opening encounter, fortunes stayed on a relative knife-edge at the
close of the first day’s play in this middle Test match, with the tourists 24
for two in reply to the Black Caps’ first knock of 268 all out.
Again it’s seesawing stuff on paper … but recent patterns at
the Basin Reserve do suggest, a little invitingly to Faf du Plessis and his
troops, that there is great potential for the Proteas – assuming they first
stabilise their innings satisfactorily – to potentially yet prosper quite
lavishly and open up a handsome advantage.
The venue, over at least the last three years or so, has
generally been marked by a difficult old time of it for the team taking first
strike (Du Plessis probably had little hesitation in sending NZ in on Thursday)
but then batting suddenly being a notably regal business between, roughly
speaking, days two and four.
Of course there is absolutely no guarantee that the
phenomenon will again take root in this fixture, especially as the pitch
reportedly spent so much time necessarily covered in the lead-up days after
generous amounts of rain and cloud.
But it got some nice sunshine on it during Thursday, and
weather prospects for the remainder of the Test look chipper as well, so there
is a chance it will offer progressively less seam movement in the next couple
of days while retaining healthy carry – something several Proteas
stroke-players ought to appreciate.
The key on this strip, as it so often is anyway in Test
cricket, seems to be to survive the challenging initial period of your knock to
be able to cash in markedly later.
That happened to an extent during the Black Caps’ first dig,
with left-hander Henry Nicholls, who took guard at a ropey 21 for three and not
even 11 overs completed, gradually flourishing more and more en route to a
maiden century in his 13th Test.
His sixth-wicket partnership of 116 – a Kiwi record against
South Africa – with Durban-born wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who was perfectly
happy to graft his way at a strike rate of 25.75 to 34 before an unlucky
dismissal, demonstrated the rewards for application.
With Elgar and a currently all-at-sea Stephen Cook dislodged
before the close to undo some of the decent work done by the Proteas in the
field – part-time spinner JP Duminy earned a career-best analysis of four for
47 – the Black Caps will also know that several other elements to the SA
batting line-up aren’t firing especially consistently at present.
Yet day two has traditionally become a bumper one for
batsmen at the Basin Reserve – ask Bangladesh’s all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan,
who blasted all but five of his personal 217 runs on that day alone in the last
Test match at the venue in January.
In the previous Test, after New Zealand had been bundled out
for 183 on the first day, Australia also prospered greatly the next day in
February last year, en route to a formidable reply of 562 (Adam Voges 239) that
knocked the mental stuffing from the Black Caps as they crashed to an innings
A Test in January 2015 also produced some second-day
fireworks at the crease after bowlers had reigned supreme the day before: Sri
Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara struck 203 to convert a shaky overnight situation of
78/5 (in reply to 221) to a much more robust 356 all out by the visitors.
Similarly, around a year earlier the Black Caps were bowled
out for 192 on day one, only for the Test to develop into a veritable orgy of
runs – India made well over 400, and then even the NZ second innings was a
monster 680 for eight declared, with Brendon McCullum earning his career-best
So who wants to knuckle down smartly, Proteas? The fruits
could be blissful.
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