Cape Town – Why can’t South Africa sort out their infernal,
lingering no-ball problem?
Long-suffering Proteas enthusiasts will be asking that with
fresh ruefulness and irritation after a Test series first day near-disaster for
the team against Australia at the WACA.
Faf du Plessis and company already have it all to do if they
are not to go 1-0 down on the three-Test roster, considering just how far they
were forced onto the back foot by the Baggy Greens on Thursday.
Certainly there would have been hugely contrasting moods in
the dressing rooms at the close, with the gleeful Australians having got close
to halfway, with all 10 wickets still intact, to wiping out the unsatisfactory
first knock of 242 posted by the visitors after Du Plessis won the toss.
Given their obvious need to strike back early when they took
to the field, the Proteas thought they had snared Aussie “gun” batsman David
Warner for only 17 when Vernon Philander – on review – was found to have technically
trapped him leg before wicket in the sixth over.
But the television replay, alas, had also revealed even more
quickly that the medium-fast seamer overstepped, for an untimely no-ball indignity
to be signalled instead.
The let-off proved the catalyst for the belligerent Warner,
like so many good stroke-players do, to make the South Africans pay dearly as
the left-hander instead clicked into his turbo-charged game, advancing to an
unbeaten 73 at stumps (105/0) with 58 of those runs in boundaries.
Warner clearly loves the famous Perth ground, where games so
often move enthrallingly fast, and if you include his yet-to-be-halted first
innings in this fixture, he has bludgeoned 744 runs (this is his fifth Test)
there at an average of 106.
In short, he seems handily “away” in both the first Test and
series, which only underlines, from a Proteas perspective, just how mortifying
Philander’s gremlin was.
Wickets from no-balls, plus just bowling a surfeit of them
generally, have been a phenomenon suffered by South Africa across the formats
in recent years, and with the Proteas desperate to bag any chance they could to
begin some sort of fightback crusade on Thursday, this error was right up with
any prior others on that front for its potential expensiveness.
It’s perhaps educative that the Aussie attack, in the course
of the 63.4 overs they had sent down to bundle out the tourists, did not
register a single no-ball, whereas SA have already conceded three (two
Philander, one Kagiso Rabada) in the mere 21 overs they bowled before the
With Shaun Marsh initially labouring quite glaringly at the
other end – Steyn bowled a particularly zestful, probing first spell – dismissing
Warner when they had the golden opportunity could have sparked a minor case of
the jitters on the Aussie balcony.
After all, television commentator Kevin Pietersen (dual
SuperSport/Channel 9) did remind South African fans optimistically, soon after
the start of the Australian knock: “There are a lot of fragile faces in that
Aussie batting line-up.”
Many of them will be feeling that bit less vulnerable, you
would think, after watching Warner get stuck in so royally once settled, and
mindful that batting should get progressively easier as the ball gets softer
and the temperature in Perth climbs significantly northward – it is expected to
– on Friday.
Tom Moody, one of the less parochial Aussie pundits you will
encounter, believes that “the mid-300s” is really where South Africa should
have ended up in their first innings, so they were some 100 runs short, a factor
only compounding their broad woes on day one.
Still, if you wanted to offer at least some semblance of
praise for the hard-pressed Proteas, it was that their completed total had
threatened to be a whole lot worse when they staggered to 32 for four in the
first session. Also, in fairness, that was much more the result of inspired
Australian bowling and catching from the “off” than it was ineptitude on the
part of top-order batsmen.
That South Africa recovered to post a score that just nudged
its way into “something to bowl at” terrain was thanks in no small measure to
the calmness, under the circumstances, and polish demonstrated by a
counter-punching Quinton de Kock (84) and Temba Bavuma.
The latter was looking a bastion of splendid organisation at
the crease for his 51, until he fell slightly unlucky victim to a well-taken
catch – via inside edge and pad -- at close range by Shaun Marsh.
“It took a great piece of cricket to get him out today; he
deserved more runs,” said Pietersen correctly.
Meanwhile the outspoken “Englishman” from Pietermaritzburg
provided an assertive take on where he feels wicketkeeper De Kock, operating at
seven here, should really be batting: “I’d open the batting (in Tests), all day
and all night, with Quinton de Kock.”
That, of course, is a matter for another occasion.
Just for the moment,
the Proteas as a group are distracted by having a deep hole to try to clamber
out of …
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