Proteas in England

Proteas must press past 350

2012-08-02 22:47
Alviro Petersen (AP)
Cape Town - South African great Barry Richards knows a thing or two about English conditions after his glittering decade or so as a Hampshire player, even if his wisdom is obviously a little dated.

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A guest in the SuperSport studio for their coverage of the first day’s play in the second Test between England and the Proteas at Headingley on Thursday, the master batsman of the 1960s and 70s made the not insignificant point that “600 at The Oval is the same as 400 here”.

Few South African supporters need reminding that Graeme Smith’s team had gone well past 600 with near-ludicrous ease in their big win in the opening encounter in London.

It was clearly evident at Leeds on Thursday - where the tourists were inserted by Andrew Strauss and the hosts questionably omitted off-spinner Graeme Swann in favour of an all-seam barrage - that Richards had made a valid point.

He even slightly revised his suggestion of what would constitute a comforting first-knock total by the Proteas after the second new ball late in the day showed some quite prodigious movement, a little spite and also hints of uneven bounce already ... he felt 350 would glow quite nicely on the scoreboard, thank you very much.

South Africa closed an intriguing, if not always blood-and-thunder first three sessions of this potentially key game in the three-Test series assuredly placed on 262 for five, which means they have a good stab at reaching Richards’ “insurance” figure with a further 88 runs required.

The afore-mentioned 400 remains also not beyond the bounds of possibility as one of their victims has been short-lived night-watchman Dale Steyn.

Promoted up the order to No 6 as the shadows lengthened and England’s faster men like Stuart Broad and Steven Fynn found fulsome second wind, the Phalaborwa Express might not have felt too disconsolate as he trudged back for a duck, knowing that his turn with a gleaming cherry in hand is yet to come.

Yes, it seems reasonable to assume that 350-400 by the Proteas would stand them in excellent stead to land a series knockout punch in Leeds and if they do manage that, Alviro Petersen, who stood a sturdy vigil throughout Thursday for an unbeaten 124 off 266 deliveries, will warrant the lion’s share of any back-slapping.

After incredible events at The Oval, right-handed opener Petersen ran the risk of having to tell grandchildren one day that in an iconic total of 637 for two, he had been the forlorn fellow to get nought.

A happier turn to the yarn will be his ability to add: “Ah, but I quickly joined the party at Headingley.”

The Highveld Lions stalwart is only 33 runs away from eclipsing his Test best of 156, achieved just two matches back against New Zealand at Wellington.

Petersen does have a bit of knack - ought one call it healthy, or not? - of producing big innings after relatively barren patches for his country.

Mind you, if some blinkered critics were inclined to suspect his place might have been in jeopardy soon, had he not come off in this Test, they would have been placing absurdly too much of their case on his failure to get going in what really were glamorised practice matches against weakened county XIs in recent weeks.

Compatriot Shaun Pollock firmly reminded in one of his stints on Sky commentary duty on Thursday that Petersen had come off in a big way in only his third-last Test match at the Basin Reserve, so his spot in the side truly wasn’t in current doubt.

Petersen went past 1 000 runs during his 15th Test at Headingley, and this was also his fourth century.

He deftly mixed up spells of extreme caution with bursts of rasping pulls and drives, and if he looked a little vulnerable to top-edging a few of his early thrusts at the short ball, this aspect of his game only got more and more assured as the day wore on.

A slight blip was his own degree of culpability, perhaps, in Hashim Amla’s infuriating run out for nine - a gaping discount of 302 on the bearded plunderer’s first-Test contribution! - but it is also the mark of a decent player that Petersen kept his composure as an ongoing batsman despite that sort of setback to the greater cause.

With Graeme Smith also in confident fettle before being slightly suckered out just after posting his 50, the Proteas’ close-of-play tally looks suitably swollen when compared to the three previous first innings Test scores registered at this ground: 88 by Australia against Pakistan in 2010, 102 by England against Australia in 2009 and England’s 203 in the last Headingley clash with South Africa in the 2008 season.

What’s more, with the Proteas’ crack with the ball perhaps not too far away, weather forecasts suggest intensifying cloud cover over the next two days at least ... traditionally a seamer’s staunch buddy at the headquarters of Yorkshire cricket.

Famous last words, and all that, but I suggest South Africa can sleep well ahead of Friday’s play.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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