Sri Lanka in SA

Marchant’s SA renewal message

2011-12-28 08:15
Marchant de Lange (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Any Test match involving South Africa these days tends to be marked by bizarre swings in fortune.

So that needs to be kept firmly in mind even as the Proteas stare potential embarrassment at the hands of Sri Lanka in the face well less than halfway through the second Test at their modern hoodoo venue of Kingsmead.

Graeme Smith’s side are hardly dead in the water yet: stalwart strike bowler Dale Steyn reeled off an important reminder of that very fact when he ripped out captain Tillakaratne Dilshan just ahead of an early close to proceedings on Tuesday’s second day’s play.

While another “21 for nine” sort of scenario, a la Australia at Newlands just a few weeks ago, is likely to be extremely far-fetched, the home team’s pace-dominated attack may well sport strong fightback qualities on a pitch showing early signs of up-and-down characteristics and with dampness on the radar for the middle day of the Test.

So Sri Lanka’s currently very dominant position of deservedly being 177 runs to the good with nine second-knock wickets in hand could yet become something greatly more tenuous.

Steyn is just the sort of character to relish rectifying a pickle like the one the Proteas are in, especially as he was sizeably upstaged by debutant fellow head-hunter Marchant de Lange in the tourists’ first turn at the crease – it was also the first time since the Test against Bangladesh at Centurion in November 2008 that the world’s No 1-ranked Test bowler had failed to earn a solitary scalp in a completed innings.

Nor will he be the only “senior citizen” in a reasonably aged South African side anxious to play an influential role in producing a sting in the tail in Durban.

Of course the Phalaborwa Express is under considerably less pressure than several colleagues to excel, because his track record and form is hardly under critical scrutiny right now.

But after a rather wretched Proteas first innings - all out in fewer than 55 overs for their lowest ever total against these foes - it is also clear that coach Gary Kirsten has not yet managed to unbundle the exasperating, split-personality trend perhaps embedded more deeply in this team than some people seem prepared to acknowledge.

Selection chief Andrew Hudson, for instance - and not unreasonably - had appealed before this Test match for the Proteas to “mirror” their crushing triumph in the first encounter at SuperSport Park.

After all, they are long overdue for stringing together two really compelling Test performances on the trot, and thus going much further toward confirming that, as a unit, they are capable of truly measuring up to the array of gifts and experience offered individually through the ranks.

Well, on Tuesday’s evidence it is sorely tempting to suggest that the mirror Hudson referred to was instead busy cracking into a hundred pieces.

The track is not yet containing special perils - as borne out by the Lankans’ own decent finish to their first innings in the first session, with the tailenders mostly rallying tenaciously around batting hero Thilan Samaraweera to lift them to the sort of score they’re unfamiliar with on South African terrain.

But, with just a suspicion of complacency prevalent as the South Africans flattered to deceive in their reply, the underdogs stuck to all their “basics” both with ball and as a fielding combo commendably well, belying their status as No 6 on the world ladder.

AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince, especially, will not look back with any affection at the shot selection that led to their costly dismissals; the latter’s exit to a reverse sweep came at a time when the Proteas were in real danger of following on.

It was a badly-timed gremlin by Prince, who is among several well-established players struggling for required consistency and living dangerously from a retention point of view.

Maybe the booming entrance to Test cricket by De Lange, the thunderbolt from Tzaneen with the intriguingly short but purposeful run-up, is exactly the kind of jolt to the system needed?

His first-innings analysis of seven for 81 was the best by any South African on debut since Lance Klusener’s second-innings eight for 64 at Kolkata in 1996.

Here is a 21-year-old some six years younger, significantly, than the next two youngest players in the current Proteas side - Morne Morkel is 27 and the other 27-year-old, AB de Villiers, turns 28 in February.

De Lange’s dramatic arrival must offer hope to similarly sprightly customers like Dean Elgar and Rilee Rossouw that opportunity surely knocks for them pretty soon ... or at the very least should?

By the same token, a revisiting of the claims of JP Duminy in the middle order, and also as an off-spinner who is better than part-time, may also be a sound move in the quest to finally get this outfit purring rather than stuttering.

But let’s reserve judgment on selection matters until the Kingsmead saga has concluded.

This match may yet be just another wicked bend on the Proteas’ 2011/12 rollercoaster ...

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