SA in New Zealand
Series nearly safe for Proteas
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - You get the sense that the Proteas want to get the job done and scurry the heck out of wet, wind-bedevilled Wellington.
Certainly the first two days of the decisive final Test against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve there, each significantly interrupted, have looked bleak and humour-testing - as confirmed by many people “lucky” enough to be there.
The mood was perhaps best summed up on Twitter by middle-order batsman Jacques Rudolph, who noted after Saturday’s premature close: “Is there bottomless gold in Wellington? Why would you live here ... #nonstopwind”
But at least with every gust or squall, the tourists have had the comfort thus far of knowing that they are moving ever closer to a series victory, whether it stays 1-0 or moves to 2-0.
It must be said that the forecast for the last three days looks altogether more promising, with plentiful sunshine predicted - admittedly for a fickle city in weather terms - and major moderation of the wind.
But much time has already been lost and the Proteas are simultaneously only moving progressively into a position where there will be just one winner, and not the Black Caps.
A situation of 246 for two - South Africa added 110 runs on Saturday for no setbacks in the wickets column - suggests they are realistically placed as things stand to aim for 500 and shut their hosts right out of the contest.
As AB de Villiers put it in a post-play tweet of his own, envisaging the ongoing task at the crease on day three: “Gotta give our bowlers the freedom 2 express.”
Despite the pitch offering some pace and bounce, there has been little penetration from the New Zealand attack, as reflected by some already strangely defensive field-placements from captain Ross Taylor, whose own body language at present is not that of someone truly believing a levelling victory is possible.
The New Zealanders debatably beefed up their batting at the expense of the bowling for this Test, and it has only really exposed the limitations of part-timers in the attack like Dean Brownlie and Kane Williamson.
Indeed, the latter has sometimes looked as though he is about to be blown right off the park as he ambles in for his little off-breaks, often pulling up as he loses his run-up rhythm in the blasts.
One of the commentators made a point that was only half-jocular when he suggested it was a good thing scrawny compatriot Billy Bowden could not stand in Wellington Tests as he might find it particularly hard to stay on his feet.
Whatever total the Proteas do eventually post, their own bowlers - a four-pronged pace brigade that should be engrossing to watch - will not necessarily be put off by the struggle thus far of their sometimes lethargic Kiwi counterparts.
There is every likelihood that they will be collectively faster and more aggressive, and keen to charge in down-breeze if it hasn’t subsided to too great a degree.
Nor should someone like Marchant de Lange, the strong athlete playing in his second Test, be especially unnerved if he is asked to operate predominantly into it as a possible “prize” for being the newest man in the SA pecking order!
Before such thoughts are fully entertained, however, there is the promising prospect of South Africa finishing their batting job clinically, and perhaps overwhelmingly powerfully.
Opener Alviro Petersen is four runs shy of a third Test century and deserved better than for bad light to intervene when on the cusp of reaching three figures.
At least he has made a really satisfying statement already about his suitability to stay in the role for the red-letter tour of England later this year, whilst the long-time “chief reserve” batsman in the Proteas’ ranks, JP Duminy, has also made the most of a rare opportunity not to be a peripheral squad member whilst veteran Jacques Kallis wrestles a neck problem.
He, too, looks promisingly set to achieve his own first Test century since that immortal 166 against Australia at Melbourne in December 2008, some 18 innings back in this format for him.
Their alliance has already been worth 140 runs and they will presumably be urged to advance that as much more as they possibly can, considering the desire to make this a “bat once” type of match for the Proteas.
It does need to be kept in mind that if the hitherto impotent Black Caps do find some kind of bounce-back in the Test, Hashim Amla is unlikely to be able to take to the crease for the South African second innings after his unfortunate spot of groin surgery.
For the moment, he can recuperate without too much anxiety for broader team health ...
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