England in SA

SA’s tactical dilemma

2010-01-15 19:24
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Ouch … these major weather interruptions at the Wanderers must be starting to play on South African cricket fans’ nerves.

The Highveld’s notorious summer rainfall is rapidly shaping up as England’s likeliest salvation if they are to somehow thwart the Proteas’ charge to a series-sharing win in the fourth Test there.

Spearheaded by Graeme Smith’s century under the kind of awkward circumstances he thrives on, South Africa continued to do all the right things within the boundary ropes at the Bullring on day two, but again a sizeable sacrifice to the elements denied them an opportunity to turn further screws on Friday.

At least the match remains reasonably advanced from a home perspective, 35 runs to the good in the first innings with eight wickets in hand.

But what if this nasty little habit of losing well over a session a day (this time it was much nearer two) continues, as the weather forecasts suggest it might?

South Africa’s frustration was compounded by a wait of three hours for what turned out to be not even four utterly no-gain overs in the early evening before bad light finally ended proceedings.

The dicey weather situation means the Proteas have got to play their cards carefully for the remainder of the contest, all the while keeping a hawkish eye on various meteorological data.

Do they attempt to bat on and on methodically in their budding first innings, potentially posting a gigantic lead and putting themselves in a position not to have to take to the crease a second time?

Or should they force things a bit, perhaps having a right old smack to settle for a first-knock advantage of only some 130 or thereabouts before declaring, if that is an option?

Smith’s men know through bitter experience in this series that taking 20 opposition wickets (yes, not 19!) is the true key to victory and they must be extremely wary of the danger of running out of time.

Certainly the Proteas’ frisky, in-form strike bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will soon be thinking: let us loose on England again to get the job done.

But that is a dilemma for the middle day of the Test and beyond -- right now South Africa are entitled to simply take heart from their significant dominance of available play thus far.

Friday was punctuated by a demoralising (to the rather flat-looking tourists) second-wicket partnership of 165 at a rhythmic four runs to the over between Smith and Hashim Amla.

Although the pitch seemed a little less spiteful than it had been on the first day, that alliance, admirably as the pair batted, made a bit of a mockery of England’s 180 all out.

It also went quite a long way to bearing out commentator Kepler Wessels’ forthright suggestion that England “have lacked imagination and intensity … almost as if they’ve already decided that 1-1 is a good series result for them”.

Smith’s 105, in which he progressively played better and better until he got a good ‘un from Ryan Sidebottom, was his 20th Test century and sixth against England, who have also been main victims by a distance of his bulkiest individual innings, of course.

Old adversary Michael Vaughan, in the SABC commentary box, had the generosity to say: “He’s worked out his game beautifully over the years; he now has a little cut shot and off-drive he never used to have.

“You used to be able to set a big leg-side field to curb him, but not any more.

“I’d be interested to find out from him after play today where this ton ranks among his ones against England.

“I think he’ll say it was right up there with his Edgbaston (series-winning) knock in 2008 … the one that saw my back as captain of England.”

It was high praise.

Smith did benefit from a great let-off on 15 when all but television-monitoring umpire Daryl Harper appeared to believe the big left-hander had nicked an ill-judged cut behind.

Later it was suggested that the Australian official had made an elementary technological boo-boo by not turning up the volume on his stump-mike monitor to hear the nick: his easy-to-use button was apparently steadfastly set on volume four of 10!

That might be one for Smith to tell his grandchildren with a chuckle one day.

Amla, meanwhile, moves closer to a three-figure contribution of his own, and is turning this into a very decent personal series at the business end of it.

For his own scrapbook was the interesting fact that he employed the hook shot fairly effectively at times – Amla usually plays this stroke about as rarely as a mouse scuttles up to a hungry snake.

It summed up South Africa’s hunger. Will the Jo’burg weather allow them to tuck in further, though?

Read more on:    hashim amla  |  graeme smith  |  england in sa

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