Proteas in fine fettle for Newlands

2016-12-30 13:34
Newlands (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - South Africa seem set fair for an early series kill against Sri Lanka as they shift to beloved Newlands, where they have only lost one of the last 14 Tests, for the second encounter over New Year.

Expectations of swollen crowds - day one on Monday is already sold out - will only spur Faf du Plessis and company further to get the job done rousingly, with the Wanderers closing fixture to spare.

According to David Brooke, the Cape Cobras’ brand and sponsorship manager, a healthy 12 500 tickets had also been sold for the second day’s play by the time of writing on Friday.

It helped the SA cause ahead of the middle Test enormously that they wrapped up the St George’s Park clash on Friday in little more than an hour, seizing the required five wickets in 13.3 overs, to secure a 206-run triumph.

Had the Lankans dragged out play significantly deeper into the sun-filled day, the Proteas would have had reason to fear for the sprightliness of their existing three-man seam attack at Newlands, especially if they don’t get to bat first.

But the relatively light workout on day five certainly stiffens the likelihood, fitness to all customers permitting, that the same XI will duly operate again in Cape Town.

There is no compelling, purely cricket-related reason now to adjust the team for Newlands, even if Temba Bavuma has arguably become the batsman most endangered - albeit it’s a ding-dong matter - for when premier stroke-player AB de Villiers returns from his long-term injury.

Middle-order customer Bavuma has notched only 40 runs in his last four innings (Adelaide and Port Elizabeth), but in his defence his second-innings dismissal at St George’s Park would probably have been reversed had it got to television referral.

He had also been really looking the part in the earlier portion of the victorious series in Australia, and remember also that his poignant maiden century came in last year’s New Year match at Newlands, when he scored 102 not out in the high-scoring draw against England.

If the just-completed Test in the Friendly City served notice of one thing, heading for game two, it was that the tourists could prosper rather better in “total” terms if some of their batsmen match tenacity shown with better shot selection and fewer pretty needless dismissals.

They did make the Proteas’ attack work appreciably harder in the second innings to bundle them out, using up 96.3 overs as opposed to only 64.5 in the first.

That said, you also get the feeling that the heavy series favourites can crank up their collective ruthlessness and efficiency a notch or two at Fortress Newlands.

As skipper Du Plessis noted, while clearly chuffed overall, in the immediate post-match television interview: “We are flying at around 80 percent ... we’ve got another 20 percent in the tank.”

In recent years, the Newlands surface has become more and more renowned for mostly retaining its integrity right up to day five, so a fair bit more bending of the backs may be required for South Africa to complete the 20-wickets task.

Ashwell Prince, the SuperSport commentator and former Proteas batsman and selector, warned that there might be “only a bit more pace and bounce” than was witnessed in PE, and that perhaps a bit more grass might need to be left on the strip to stop it from becoming a rank featherbed.

Spinners can be influential at the venue, and in that regard Keshav Maharaj’s continued strong strides at national level at St George’s Park will be heartening to the SA camp.

Meanwhile, as if to add to their relative woes, the Sri Lankans - their seam attack is hardly the most threatening ever to visit these shores, judging by the last few days - would have been deeply concerned about their champion left-arm spinner Rangana Herath getting struck on a bowling finger by Kyle Abbott while he batted on Friday.

Still coming to terms, in some respects, with life minus a certain “Muralitharan” surname in their XI, any fitness uncertainty at all over the veteran Herath would be the very last thing they need for the second Test ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    sri lanka  |  proteas  |  cape town  |  cricket


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