SA in New Zealand

Frantic SA stuck in ODI mode

2012-03-07 10:38
Graeme Smith (Gallo)

Cape Town – The beauty of a Test match’s early combat phase is that you don’t really know how disastrous a session, or perhaps even full innings, has been until the opposition have had a turn at the crease too.

What we do know, a little uncomfortably from afar, is that on paper after a curtailed day one of the first clash between New Zealand and South Africa at frigid Dunedin, the home dressing room is likelier to be a more vibrant place.

That is almost all down to a second of only two possible sessions at the University Oval on Wednesday being as poorly from a Proteas perspective as the first was productive.

From a highly promising 86 for one at tea, after being put in to bat in temperatures arguably more suitable to the start of the legendary Iditarod sled race in Alaska, the tourists rather strangely tumbled down the “glacier” as the sun came out and it warmed up a bit in the closing session.

Perhaps the local theory among in-the-know television commentators that it was simply too cold for the ball to swing at the outset came home to roost, because as the mercury climbed so the Black Caps’ bowlers, with veteran spearhead Chris Martin to the fore, began to get some away “bend” and even in the odd instance a hint of reverse swing as well – not bad for a ball just some 30-odd overs old at the time!

You could also argue that the Proteas found themselves suddenly caught in one of those freak cricketing avalanches, with Martin quite possibly having the most influential four balls of his entire 12-year career in the Test format as he ripped out South African crease kingpins Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, albeit spaced over the course of two personal overs.

That really knocked the stuffing out of the visitors’ plans, after initial, reassuring comfort at their task from Smith and Hashim Amla in a second-wicket alliance had offered the strong prospect of a beefy total indeed.

Instead 191 for seven looks notably precarious, with Jacques Rudolph – at least he has looked mostly in healthy, unflappable touch since his own ball one at the height of the Martin-engineered storm – and overnight partner Vernon Philander now expected to help inch the Proteas up to something more workmanlike ... with a bit of luck 240 to 260, say?

That could yet prove to be a score that keeps the South Africans, with their own spicy attack, very firmly in the contest.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the dry, brown pitch is already showing fairly obvious evidence of scuffing-up by bowlers, and it is the New Zealanders who are likely to have to bat last on it.

Of some concern at this fledgling stage, however, is the impression some of us probably have that South Africa – with captain Smith a key culprit after getting to a welcome, crisply-compiled half-century – contributed in no small measure to their own downfall during Wednesday.

They looked at times, both in stroke-play and in terms of some idiotically risky running between the wickets, as if they were still stuck in limited-overs mode, which is at least partly understandable when you consider the dubious nature of their tour itinerary.

I know schedules are absolutely jam-packed these days, but it always stuck out like a sore thumb to me that not even a two-day, first-class sort of fixture had been included, which would at least have given some incoming players to the touring party an opportunity to acclimatise and banish a few cobwebs, and spill-over troops from the various one-day scraps against the Kiwis the chance to get to grips with the less frenetic tempo requirements of the longer form of the game.

They can be a fairly one-eyed lot, but several of the New Zealand commentators could hardly be faulted for gleefully arguing, for instance, that Smith effectively “opened the door” for the collapse by reaching out at a wide ball to drive Martin straight to cover.

Another hefty blow at a bad time came when Mark Boucher, the supposed gritty battler at No 7 when the chips are down, succumbed to a hot-headed run-out soon after pleasingly punching a ball off his legs past midwicket for four to open his account.

It certainly wasn’t the first time in the shortened day’s play when South African batsmen put themselves at unnecessary risk in that way and Boucher, low on confidence which is rare for him, will be sick as the proverbial parrot considering the widely-perceived precariousness of his position in the team.

So yes, this was all fuel to any suspicion that the Proteas had not mentally shifted gear to suit Test cricket’s unique, more measured needs.

I fancy Kallis, in particular, might have benefited more than most from a warm-up two-dayer, as he could not get going in the two ODIs he played in ahead of Dunedin, registering scores of 13 and four.

Remarkably, considering the overwhelmingly stellar Test statistics of the great accumulator, this was Kallis’s third duck in four knocks, considering that he got a pair in the Durban debacle against Sri Lanka – although a great deal of “meat” falls between this unusually flimsy sandwich as he did notch a far-from-piffling 224 at Newlands over New Year.

He will also know that he got out to a bit of a ripper, which brings no shame.

The second day’s play may well need some counter-snorters from Dale Steyn and company, mind you ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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