Sri Lanka in SA

Tough grind, but SA on track

2012-01-04 22:18
Graeme Smith celebrates his catch (Gallo Images)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - It seems reasonably clear already that the Proteas are going to have to thoroughly earn their pay-cheques in the field if they are to triumph in the Test series against Sri Lanka.

Scorecard after Day 2

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Day two of the deciding contest at Newlands on Wednesday only confirmed that the pitch remains skewed in favour of batting, although after some stunningly lopsided activity the other way around at the same venue only a month or two earlier, many purists will not be whingeing too much.

We have a match on our hands, and that can only be good for the cause of Test cricket, especially with another near full house encouragingly expected for a third day’s play which ought to go a long way to revealing whether it will produce anything but a stalemate.

Yes, the Lankans have started confidently and briskly in their reply to South Africa’s imperious 580 for four declared, but with two wickets down the deficit remains a weighty 431 runs, so there is plenty of work for the tourists ahead before they can say with any confidence that they are not headed for the proverbial woods.

Particularly relevant for the Proteas is the fact that leg-spinner Imran Tahir has already snaffled the scalp of a flourishing Tillakaratne Dilshan - admittedly helped by captain Graeme Smith’s inspired diving catch in the deep - and in his seventh over, the last one of the day, came within a whisker of trapping big fish Mahela Jayawardene leg before wicket.

As Paul Adams, another attacking spinner to have once served the country with aplomb, pointed out to Sport24 during the final session on Wednesday, Tahir may profit at last from having plenty of “security” runs behind him as he plies his tricky trade for the remainder of this match.

Adams feels that the track may stay fairly profitable for batsmen for much of the middle day, but then cracks start to open up to a significant degree if the weather stays warm and breezy - as is expected.

It just takes one quick strike on Wednesday, arguably - thus breaking the critical Jayawardene-Kumar Sangakkara alliance - for the tourists to get a hint of the collywobbles.

And although the South African seamers’ figures thus far do not make for especially encouraging reading, I felt Morne Morkel bowled with welcome aggression and real pace to possibly deserve better than his lone wicket and unceremonious thumping for a few boundaries with an attacking field stationed.

The follow-on target of 381 is still a fair distance away although (unless the Proteas really get wickets tumbling at a dramatic rate of knots on Thursday) one suspects that this may not be one of those suitable occasions to enforce it anyway.

Did Smith declare too early? I am not among the dissenters, even if his decision to call it quits just before 14:30, with AB de Villiers and Jacques Rudolph on a merry plunder and the Lankans footsore and dispirited at the time, did catch a few of us a bit by surprise.

Clearly the skipper knew that he was going to need good time to get working at the break-them-down-twice task.

And let’s face it, how often don’t captains get pilloried after a drawn Test for “leaving the first innings declaration too long”?

Poor AB de Villiers ... it’s not every day that a thumping, unbeaten 160 off his blade is nevertheless going to be eclipsed by the achievement of a second double-century, and the first at his much-fancied Newlands, by Jacques Kallis.

The old master again did not disappoint with his attitude of intent on Wednesday, adding 65 brisk runs to his overnight 159 before unusually holing out a fraction ahead of lunch.

Does it sound too clever by half to suggest that Kallis actually let slip a golden chance to crack one or two further landmarks in his hugely distinguished career?

There was some irony in the fact that, when he departed on 224, De Villiers, holder of the all-time SA Test record score of 278 not out, remained at the other end.

Kallis also blew - for want of a more suitable word! - the opportunity to at least eclipse the Newlands record Test innings of 262, achieved by New Zealand’s Stephen Fleming in that snore-inducing draw in late autumn of 2006 on a pitch painfully tired after a full season’s usage.

Still, now that he is so commendably in the double-ton groove, maybe there even lurk more in the 36-year-old, as he eyes up Gary Kirsten’s three and then Smith’s four for the SA cause.

He clearly believes in the old London bus theory - none for an hour at Trafalgar Square and then two in four minutes.

After taking 15 years and 242 innings to register his first double, it only required 12 further knocks and 13 months to reach a second.

Does this man know any ceiling?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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