Proteas MUST seek lead of 100-plus!

2018-03-09 19:21
Dean Elgar (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It will seem an ungenerous, overly negative thing to say about a much-hyped frontline series, but the South Africa v Australia combat looks increasingly like being determined eventually by which team has not batted the worst.

Day one of the second Test at St George's Park on Friday only seemed to underline the likelihood that fragility at the crease - even taking the frisky respective attacks into account - will be a potentially durable bugbear for both outfits.

That said, the Proteas have nine wickets still to play with in their first innings, so also sport the most golden of opportunities on Saturday - and possibly even a fair bit beyond, if they can - to get into a significant, first-time position of real dominance in the series after being largely on the back foot in their acrimony-stained Durban reverse.

On paper, they already hold the aces in Port Elizabeth after bundling out the Aussies for 243, Steve Smith having elected (though you can’t really brand it a madcap decision) to take first strike in damp and challenging initial conditions, and then replying with a satisfactory enough 39 for one by the close.

The Baggy Greens' dressing room would have been little short of ecstatic a couple of minutes before lunch: two runs shy of the 100-mark, no wickets down and, frankly, flying at the time.

But then Vernon Philander, the most persistent and parsimonious seamer in the session, nipped out Cameron Bancroft, and a sensational later spell by Kagiso Rabada, who suddenly found his increasingly famed turbo button and bombed out five Australians in the space of 18 deliveries, swung fortunes quite dramatically around.

The situation was certainly aided in no small measure by rookie paceman Lungi Ngidi, preferred to Morne Morkel in what probably wasn’t a straightforward decision, bowling a budding David Warner (63) with a gem of a delivery that just, but crucially, disturbed the top of middle and off-stump.

There is, of course, a glass-half-empty case for saying the departure of Aiden Markram for 11 in the final session - remember that he accounted for as many as 175 of his country's 460 runs at Kingsmead, or 38 percent on his own - wasn’t ideal at all.

Such has been the domino-like propensity for periods of disaster in the SA batting division for many weeks and months, after all, that Proteas fans will not be breathing too easily yet.

Yet the table seems quite favourably set, nevertheless, for the hosts to finally put things right on that front at a particularly opportune time.

The weather is anticipated to be brighter on day two - a development that will also hopefully draw in a tidy Saturday crowd - with every chance, as a consequence, that batting will be at its easiest in the Test match then.

Really prodigious reverse swing (a major feature in the last PE Test between these foes, when SA romped to victory) may only occur from the midway mark of the contest and beyond, whilst suitably sharp turn is also likely to be delayed until around the third day or later.

So the home-town plea to Faf du Plessis and his troops will surely be: cash in as spiritedly as you can in the interim.

Bearing in mind that they'll have to bat last, they are likely to harbour overnight a dream of achieving a minimum, you would think, of a 100-run lead on the first dig, thus pushing to post around 350 ... or considerably northward of that, which would really turn screws in their favour.

If they can only get to around parity, or a miserly advantage in runs, the pendulum only swings back in favour of the Aussies, and a tantalising opportunity to ensure they cannot lose the series with two whole Tests to play.

The gritty Dean Elgar (average 77 in the Friendly City) is still at the crease with night-watchman Rabada - who crowned a fabulous personal day with some confident strokes in the fading light - and remember that a certain AB de Villiers illuminated the February 2014 equivalent clash with a first-innings century.

Speaking of Rabada, just one additional, very good reason for South Africa to determinedly seek to level the series at 1-1 in this match is that a silly, shoulder-brush incident with Smith, seconds after he had animatedly dismissed him, could just have some disciplinary impact on his continued, uninterrupted role in the series.

Based on cricketing evidence from Friday by their champion strike factor, that’s not a scenario the Proteas would wish to deal with ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cricket


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Thursday, 26 December 2019
South Africa v England, Centurion 10:00
Friday, 03 January 2020
South Africa v England, , Cape Town 10:30
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