Decider: Proteas brace for ‘result’ strip

2017-03-22 12:50
Keshav Maharaj (Getty)

Cape Town – Nine Test matches in a row without a stalemate.

That is the status of Seddon Park in Hamilton, where South Africa do battle from Saturday in the critical final encounter with New Zealand - and it is naturally a statistic that will comfort the Black Caps just that little bit more.

The hosts have to be especially mindful of keeping things “moving along” healthily in the third Test, as they are 1-0 down heading for the pivotal last five days – assuming the match goes that far – of the series.

Much of the talk in the lead-up has revolved around the possibility of a markedly turning surface at the ground, although events of the last few days may have conspired to make the New Zealanders just a tad more cautious about seeking that hallmark.

For one thing, the leading wicket-taker by some distance in the series is South Africa’s own main spinner Keshav Maharaj (13 at an average of under 14) who prospered magnificently in the second-Test triumph at Wellington despite the Basin Reserve not being glaringly favourable to his trade.

There is another factor for the hosts to consider, more anxiously than the noses-in-front Proteas do: the autumn weather in the temperate Land of the Long White Cloud.

Current forecasts suggest a strong likelihood of rain on days two and three – at least - and if there is cloud-cover around, seam and swing bowlers will come strongly onto the radar as match influencers as well.

But if the elements play ball and there are minimal or no disruptions to the Test, then modern history suggests a draw is unlikely.

New Zealand have won five and lost four of the last nine Tests at Seddon Park, and included in the quartet of setbacks for them is a nine-wicket thumping at the hands of the very Proteas in March 2012.

On that occasion, Vernon Philander had a field day – or days! – with a game haul of 10 wickets and the man-of-the-match mantle.

“SuperVern” is likely to be pumped-up for the decider by the fact that wickets have generally laboured to come his way in the series thus far … and undeservedly so.

On paper, his two scalps (both in the first Test at Dunedin) at an average of 62 look unflattering indeed, but they say so little about his performances.

As former national captain Kepler Wessels pointed out in SuperSport commentary during the New Zealand second innings at the Basin Reserve - when Philander went wicketless again - there will be many days when the probing seamer bowls worse, yet picks up three or four wickets.

He has been a near-constant pressure-builder during the series thus far, as evidenced by a stellar economy rate of 2.29, and just seems due for his luck to turn dramatically for the better in dismissals terms.

The other peculiarity to consider is that when Seddon Park last staged a Test, in November, it didn’t exactly offer a “dustbowl” paradise for spinners.

The Black Caps beat Pakistan by 138 runs on that occasion, although spin was a very secondary influence and the man-of-the-match laurel was snapped up by NZ paceman Tim Southee, whose eight wickets included a first-innings analysis of six for 80.

The toss may well offer the captain winning it on Saturday, whether it’s Faf du Plessis or Kane Williamson, an interesting conundrum -- in all of the last five Tests in Hamilton, the skipper has elected to put the opposition in.

Now retired Ricky Ponting of Australia was last skipper to buck that trend, in March 2010, and the Baggy Greens duly went on to win the second Test by 176 runs and claim the Trans-Tasman Trophy series spoils 2-0.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  sa in nz  |  keshav maharaj  |  cricket


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