Proteas ‘elevate’ in Ottis’ first big test

2018-01-06 07:00
Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Day one of the first Test between South Africa and India at Newlands, with due respect to bludgeoned prior visitors Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, was the belated first genuine examination of the Proteas under the guiding hand of Ottis Gibson.

And if we were to put it in Facebook or Twitter parlance, a salvo of enthusiastic “likes” would have been deemed fitting, by stumps, from supporters of the home team.

Had copyright not belonged in a sense to an earlier head coach of the national team, Mickey Arthur, it would have been extremely tempting to brand the Proteas’ style of play on a memorable, sun-soaked Friday “brave cricket”.

Hmm, so how about audacious - a touch cavalier, even - cricket as an alternative, then?

In the fading shadows of the first day against the No 1-ranked tourists, there was good reason to reflect on a discernible, general positivity, first reflected in team selection and then transferred in several respects to the manner in which Faf du Plessis and his troops went about their business for the bulk of the three sessions.

There may be dissenting or tempering views, particularly from the Subcontinent, but a personal inclination was to unreservedly suggest “clear advantage Proteas” - based on events on the challenging but far from unreasonable pitch - when the engrossing combat ended just after 18:00.

Certainly the balance had shifted quite violently by then from the time when, just 29 deliveries into the keenly-awaited hostilities, India were understandably whooping it up with SA a woozy-eyed 12 for three and Bhuvneshwar Kumar quite rampant.

If you’d offered the Proteas 286 from there, they’d have bitten your arm off for it: if you’d later offered them “India 28 for three” (including Virat Kohli) in response, they’d have chewed clean through the other, leaving a macabre mess of your anatomy.

But that was how the Friday cookie did crumble, and the Proteas’ position may feasibly look even more commanding before lunch on Saturday, as the morning session at Newlands is traditionally generous to seam bowlers - the first in this Test match did absolutely nothing to buck that trend.

By revealing an XI that included only six specialist batsmen – remember, SA have not played true A-league opponents at Test level in almost half a year - the hosts simultaneously served clear notice that they intend a “go for the throat” formula against the Indians, with a multi-sting attack probably providing very little let-up.

The next belligerent, war-like gesture was Du Plessis making the decision, and it could not have been that easy, to take first strike after winning the toss; Kohli claimed he would have bowled anyway, which only piled the pressure on the home nation not to make a pig’s ear of things at the crease.

Against that backdrop, it spoke volumes in the captain’s favour that he - along with old Affies school buddy AB de Villiers - was so instrumental in the major turnaround in play after India’s early teeth-baring.

Their 114-run partnership for the fourth wicket was quite priceless in value and, given the any-ball-could-have-your-name-on-it circumstances, the respective innings of sixty-something weight played by both Du Plessis and De Villiers almost seemed like centuries for the gumption and varying skills under pressure they demonstrated.

The former was a bit more obdurate than he was swashbuckling, and that is anything but a criticism: keep in mind that he has not been in the middle competitively since retiring hurt on 91 in the East London ODI against the Bangladeshis back on October 22.

De Villiers, meanwhile, was consummately just De Villiers … urgent, enterprising and hugely thrilling, regardless of situation, and only underlining how vital a cog (not to mention crowd-puller in economically tough times) he remains in the Proteas’ machine.

Put it this way: if he had succumbed in single figures, it is entirely possible South Africa might have been bundled out for a total inside the 150-mark.

Instead his natural instincts went a long way to ensuring that, even as they were bowled out well inside 75 overs - hardly ideal for the team batting first in a Test - the Proteas importantly sported a vibrant run rate of 3.90 to the over, which arguably carried them some way past a “par” total.

Nor did SA, on the day, look noticeably as though they were offering too dangerously long a tail; the majority of their batsmen from No 7 down – including the so gladdeningly back-in-Test-whites Dale Steyn - knuckled down to the gritty rear-guard action with some aplomb.

If fortune favours the brave - sorry, the audacious - then the Proteas have got what they sought.

At least so far …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    india  |  proteas  |  rob houwing  |  cricket


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