Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The blindingly obvious
frailties of the opposition notwithstanding, South Africa can take great heart
from a first-Test performance against Sri Lanka at Centurion that demonstrated
welcome, sustained ruthlessness.
The Proteas certainly weren’t playing
world-beaters, and thrashing them by an innings before tea on day three will
have only added fuel to the growing argument that this format of the game
should be split into two tiers, with far greater emphasis on genuine
But while it would be discourteous to
summarily write the Lankans off after being bundled out for respective totals
of 180 and 150 in a grand total of 86.5 overs in the first of three contests at
SuperSport Park, the match only really sent out an embarrassing reminder of
their abject track record in South Africa.
They have had a particularly wretched past
18 months or so in Tests overall, and a tweet from Wisden India after
Saturday’s rout was completed asked the not unimportant question: “Is Sri
Lanka’s continuing slide more proof that (now retired) Muttiah Muralitharan was
perhaps the most valuable player in cricket history?”
The shell-shocked tourists will try to beef
up their arsenal ahead of the second Test in Durban from Boxing Day by flying
in an apparently fit-again pair of seamers, Nuwan Kulasekara and Dhammika
They are hardly Holding and Roberts, but
will at least give the Lankans more options to consider, especially after
all-rounder Angelo Mathews picked up an injury at Centurion and faces a race
against time to be fit for the second Test.
What the visitors desperately require in
the remainder of the series are richer harvests of runs from their big two of
Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara -- the latter, for example, faced only
11 balls for a miserly three runs across two knocks in the Highveld Test.
Despite the surface being notably on the
sporty side – not for the first time in this country in 2011/12, which probably
opens up a separate debate – South Africa showed admirable patience, after
their slightly over-eager approach at the crease against Australia recently, to
bat out 561 minutes and 122 overs for a beefy tally of 411 in their lone
Most of their frontline batsmen
contributed, with Mark Boucher’s 65 particularly welcome to the cause and
leg-spinner Imran Tahir also showing that there is perhaps more run-scoring
potential among the Proteas’ supposedly bunny-like “nine, 10 and 11” than had
In a nutshell, the Proteas did what they
had to do in this match extremely well.
As always their frisky pace attack got stuck
in with relish and diligence, and even the long-in-tooth Jacques Kallis got a
healthy whiff of gun-smoke as he unleashed a bit of a revenge quest on Dilhara
Fernando – who had felled him earlier in the match – by blitzing him with a few
deliveries extremely close to the 145km/h mark.
The odd man out was Morne Morkel, who was
largely forgettable despite the favourable environment at Centurion, but the
big man did at least demonstrate what he is capable of with a beautiful
delivery to dismiss Thilan Samaraweera in the Lankan second knock.
I fancy there will be virtually no debate
about his right to an opportunity to redeem himself in Durban: an overdue,
solid run of cricket is exactly what a “rhythm” bowler like him needs and
Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s addition to the squad for the last two Tests is probably
more about phasing him back in the system at this stage after his own enforced
Presumably Jacques Rudolph’s finger injury
is not considered a major impediment; Alviro Petersen, who did plenty of
on-field duty as a substitute fielder at SuperSport Park, shapes as a logical,
direct replacement if necessary.
Rudolph still did not look massively
convincing as Graeme Smith’s opening partner, but the pair posted 88 together
and the former knuckled down for almost four hours for his 44 – a pleasing
development after his impetuous exits at times against the Aussies.
Meanwhile Vernon Philander, of course,
cranks up even further his status as the hottest new kid on the Test cricket
No wonder one of the game’s bloggers
suggested: “This guy’s name should be 5lander.”
Respective five-wicket hauls in just his
third Test rightly earned him the man-of-the-match accolade and he now sports
24 scalps at a blistering average of 12.38.
Comparisons with the great Glenn McGrath
for ability to strike a “business length” unwaveringly look more and more
justified ... perhaps we might want to stop short of nicknaming him “Pigeon”
after the skinny-legged Australian, however?
As Philander said at the post-match
presentation: “I always try to find that in-between length where the batsman
doesn’t know whether to go forward or back.”
Old Kingsmead hand Shaun Pollock,
meanwhile, stated the obvious in SuperSport television analysis, but could
hardly be faulted for accuracy when he pointed out: “Durban is still bouncier than
most tracks in South Africa.
“The going will stay hard for Sri Lanka.”
Not too many would offer a contrary view ...