Cape Town – If South Africa are to feel even vaguely comfortable at the start of the second-innings phase of the gripping second Test against England at Newlands, a lead of at least 30-40 runs seems the necessary facilitator of that.
They will be very lucky for that to come to fruition: it is far likelier that a deficit of around that mark will instead be their lot on Sunday’s middle, “moving day” in the intriguing battle on a clearly deteriorating surface.
While the situation is very far from a forlorn cause yet for Faf du Plessis and company, it may take something pretty special from an individual or two from this point if they are to either win or at least avoid defeat – the latter unlikely as the game has advanced fast enough already to make stalemate only a long shot.
The Proteas, 1-0 up from Centurion, ended a slow but still thoroughly absorbing day two labouring on 215 for eight in reply to the English first knock of 269, an ominous 54 runs in arrears and just Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje left to either close the gap or somehow nose the host nation in front at the crease.
If he sat and quietly watched the sun sinking behind Devil’s Peak after Saturday’s hostilities, Rassie van der Dussen, playing his second Test for South Africa, would have done so with a complex gamut of emotions (some pleasant, some perhaps a little more rueful) swirling in his mind.
On the credit side, there can be little doubting that the tall middle-order batsman is making some pleasing strides in the most taxing cricket format of them all, as evidenced by his dogged innings of 68 in more than four hours -- a second half-century for him in as many knocks after that encouraging and altogether bolder 51 on debut at spicy SuperSport Park.
Van der Dussen was also involved in a critical fourth-wicket partnership of 117 with the gnarly character who is Dean Elgar after taking guard at a particularly wobbly 40 for three and veteran England strike bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad already very much tails-up.
It has been the only three-figure stand of the match so far, so purely in that statistical context, the inexperienced Van der Dussen must take an irrefutable, substantial share of credit.
There is a certain serenity to his body language at the crease that smacks of Jacques Kallis (currently his batting coach, too) and his famous “bubble” during a fabulous career at the highest level.
The Lions man clearly doesn’t get easily rattled … and that was important on Saturday as he probably used up some five or six of the cat’s apparent nine lives en route to his commendable tally of runs.
The 30-year-old nicked into the slip cordon several times along the way before his eventual dismissal, either being dropped or seeing the ball bounce a fraction short of preying hands; he was also dismissed at one point only to be recalled because of belated revelation of a rank no-ball from Broad.
In between, though, Van der Dussen played his part with great tenacity in rebuilding – at least for a good while – the innings alongside Elgar, who top-scored with 88 and demonstrated all of his most belligerent and resourceful qualities in doing so before a rash lofted drive at off-spinner Dom Bess probably deprived him of a deserved century.
But it was precisely southpaw Elgar’s uncharacteristic manner of costly exit that shifted the critical spotlight a little closer back toward his partner – or certainly in terms of the judgement of blunt commentator and SA-born former England plunderer Kevin Pietersen.
“KP” posed the question from behind the SuperSport mike: “Was (Elgar) perhaps put under pressure, got frustrated, because Van der Dussen was batting so slowly?”
Pietersen might have had a point, adding that it would have been easier for the right-handed Van der Dussen to “make a play” against the similarly greenhorn Bess, rather than Elgar feel compelled to do so in a move that led to his skied downfall and a particularly mortified look as he trudged back to the pavilion.
Former Proteas captain and all-rounder Shaun Pollock took a more diplomatic approach to the matter, handing out a more general criticism of SA’s timidity against Bess, who conceded runs at only 2.29 to the over in the space of his generous 27.
“Maybe South Africa missed a bit of a trick (against Bess) … they could have looked to attack him more in his third Test match.”
So there was plenty for Van der Dussen to chew on at stumps.
Not all of it bad, though, let that be very firmly said …
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