Proteas in England
Why Proteas still hold aces
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The pitch at the home of cricket, Lord’s, seems to be sticking to its modern hallmarks ... which may also mean that South Africa remain more strongly on course to secure the series against England than many people realise.
That is because various factors are conspiring to keep the draw a reasonable prospect in the critical third and final Test.
If that result occurs in this intriguing fixture, of course, the Proteas will close out the series 1-0 and jump ahead of their hosts to No 1 on the ICC rankings – far and away the key, dual goal of the tour.
After two thoroughly engrossing, often fluctuating days’ play, victory by either side remains a healthy enough likelihood, it must be emphasised.
Friday may have again ended with England better placed by the proverbial hair’s breadth.
But there have also been slowly increasing signs that stalemate -- which Graeme Smith and company would happily bank – is right up there as a possible outcome too.
For one thing, the Lord’s surface has had a habit in the last few years of deteriorating far less prolifically, as Tests grind on, than is the norm at many other venues, which means second-innings totals there sometimes eclipse postings in the first dig.
Only in the last Test match at the ground, a few weeks ago, the characteristic came to the fore again when the limited West Indies gave England, the heavy favourites, plenty of anxious moments before they eventually succumbed by five wickets.
With a batting line-up well less stellar than the South African one, they registered almost 350 in their second turn at the crease, and significantly also occupied it for some 40 overs more than they’d managed the first time around.
Not that the Proteas would have been too surprised by noticing that: six of their current team were part of a greatly more powerful rearguard (and on that occasion match-saving) effort the last time they graced the hallowed London venue in 2008.
South Africa had trailed by a formidable 346 runs on the first knock in that opening Test, of a series they eventually won, but their followed-on second went hugely more swimmingly.
They batted for 167 overs and 686 minutes, in conditions that seemed to get better and better rather than the more orthodox other way around, for a score of almost 400 for three wickets, with centuries from all of their top three – Smith, Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla.
Two of those men are in service in this Lord’s follow-up between the sides, and may already be quietly fancying their chances of prospering in conditions that could prove not to be dissimilar.
Adding to the possibility that the best runs of the match may just be on offer on days three and four here is that the weather outlook remains excellent as things stand: heatwave conditions are tipped for Saturday’s play, and they always say that batsmen make hay most productively when the sun shines on English grounds.
It is a pretty good reason for South Africa not to feel too disheartened just yet by England’s gritty middle-order resistance on day two from Jonny Bairstow –ironically the youngster who has replaced the fiercely-debated KP Pietersen – and Ian Bell.
For if England continue to prosper and perhaps even grab a tidy little first-innings lead, it may simply confirm that a suitably weighty Proteas second knock – given the crucial time that would eat up -- is there for the taking, provided they keep their wits about them.
My cheeky little long-range forecast, with the match still well short of the midway mark and provided that cloud cover mostly stays away, as anticipated?
Draw, and by extension a jubilant away-team dressing room ...
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