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
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
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
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