Proteas pioneering the age of quick-fire Test cricket

2019-01-04 11:27
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)

Cape Town - A total of 12 wickets fell on the opening day of the second Test between the Proteas and Pakistan at Newlands on Thursday and it already seems highly unlikely - almost impossible - that this contest will go into a fifth and final day. 

It could very well be over within three, but developments on day two will provide a clearer picture of that possibility. 

The Boxing Day Test at Centurion, meanwhile, saw 15 wickets fall on each of the opening two days. South Africa won on day three.  

In fact, just four of South Africa's last 13 home Tests have reached a fifth day. 

The quality of the opposition obviously plays a massive role, but South African conditions are becoming an increasingly significant factor.

Coach Ottis Gibson's love affair with fast bowling combined with skipper Faf du Plessis's active relationship with ground staff has seen some spicy Test wickets prepared in South Africa over the last year. 

It all started with India's visit in early 2018 when the Proteas, after being obliterated on India's dust bowl wickets during their 2015 tour, sought revenge. 

Du Plessis at the time spoke at length about home sides using conditions to their advantage. If India could take it to the extreme to benefit their spin-heavy attack, then why could the Proteas not do the same to ensure that their pace men were as destructive as possible? 

It is a slippery slope.

It almost backfired in the third Test against India at the Wanderers where, in a dead rubber that the Proteas lost, the match was nearly called off with uneven, unpredictable bounce making conditions dangerous. 

The Proteas toned it down somewhat when Australia visited, but even then, the wickets were very clearly prepared with the seamers in mind. 

There is, of course, nothing wrong with that, but when there is no way of telling when a ball is going to spit up off a length or stay low, then questions of player safety and a fair contest between bat and ball will always arise. 

Centurion on day one was flirting with going down that road, but the wicket flattened somewhat, and Du Plessis gave the wicket the 'thumbs up' afterwards. 

He would as long as the Proteas are winning and nobody is getting hurt. 

It is all part of a new positive, aggressive and ruthless approach that the Proteas are employing on the Test stage. It certainly makes for entertaining cricket, but the five-day format is changing so much in these parts that it is now barely recognisable.

Centurion has been the most promising Boxing Day venue that South Africa has seen in years, but because the Test was over in three days, there was nobody through the gates on Saturday and Sunday. 

The more realistic concern, though, is that the Proteas are not doing themselves any long-term favours by playing on wickets like this. 

The first round of the World Test Championship sees the South Africa back in India for three Tests in October this year after the completion of the World Cup. 

What then? 

Keshav Maharaj has been left out of the Newlands Test and could very well experience the same fate at the Wanderers. It is not that he has done anything wrong, but rather that this Proteas pace attack is lethal in these conditions. 

"When our bowlers are running in and taking wickets then they are getting confidence," Dale Steyn explained after the first day's play at Newlands.

"When you're bowling on the flattest wicket in the world then there is nothing better to have than confidence in your ability."

A veteran of 90 Test matches, Steyn has seen it all. 

He has bowled long, thankless spells on wickets in all parts that have given him nothing, and now he is a cog in a South African attack that is being given the perfect platform to thrive. 

It may mean shorter matches, but Steyn is just fine with that. 

"I love it. I think that it makes Test cricket really exciting and entertaining. I'm a big fan of matches that have got spice in them," he added. 

The Pakistan batsmen may disagree, but it is hard to see anything changing as long as South Africa are dominating their visitors the way they have been under Gibson. 

Follow @LloydBurnard on Twitter ...

Read more on:    proteas  |  faf du plessis  |  cape town  |  cricket


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