Cape Town - If the scenario set out by
their former coach Eric Simons is found to be an accurate yardstick, South
Africa have left themselves little further margin for error in the first Test
against India at Mohali.
SuperSport pundit Simons said after the
close of the second day’s play on Friday that he believed “anything below 220”
in a final-innings chase gave the Proteas “a chance” of victory.
Anything above 250, however, and “we may be
Some would translate that particular statement
into slightly cruder language, perhaps; a three-letter Afrikaans word beginning
and ending with ‘k’ quickly comes to mind as a pivotal part of it.
There will be plenty of people finding it
hard to deviate too violently from the SA and WP all-rounder’s mathematical assessment,
and under such circumstances the tourists have a critical first session of the
Test’s middle day on Saturday, in which they need significant Indian
second-knock strikes in a hurry.
The host nation closed day two with a
flurry of damaging, statement-making boundaries in the lengthening shadows, Cheteshwar
Pujara to the fore, stretching their lead to 142 with eight wickets in hand
after securing a narrow but extremely morale-boosting lead on the first innings.
So if Hashim Amla’s side are to have the
luxury – if that is the right word – of chasing Simons’ suggested 220 or fewer,
they must somehow find a way to rip through the remainder of the Indian order
without conceding many more than another 80 runs or so.
Let’s not forget that this particular SA
side still boasts certain characters who are well-versed in last-knock Test defiance
and sometimes even triumphant heroism against the odds: Amla, AB de Villiers
and Faf du Plessis don’t need any extra lessons in the art of crease occupation
at the business end of five-day cricket.
And at least the first two mentioned had educative,
fighting enough personal stints in the otherwise unconvincing Proteas first
knock of 184, which lasted exactly as long as the Indian one – 68 overs – but
showed a 17-run shortfall on theirs.
De Villiers characteristically lived by the
sword (and why not, in his case?) in his innings of 63, which was almost worth
three figures given the conditions, whilst Amla (43) stood his ground pretty
confidently for two and a half hours, given his famed technical ability against
Frankly, though, there was reason to
suspect South Africa as a whole got a little too sucked in mentally by the hype
around the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium’s “dust bowl” for this Test.
The pitch has certainly been very
challenging, but when you consider that both Stiaan van Zyl and Faf du Plessis
had got out on day one without offering shots, and then Dean Elgar, Dane Vilas
and Dale Steyn were later undone by costly rash moments, it would not have been
unreasonable to suggest 250 or 260 as a more “par” sort of achievement by the
tourists and a figure they ought to have banked.
Instead the dice currently looks loaded,
ominously, by some two-thirds in India’s favour and the Proteas’ renowned
fighting qualities very much required in the run-in.
They were hamstrung in their initial
efforts to make quick Indian second-innings inroads by the absence of pace
spearhead Dale Steyn with a groin injury; they will very much hope the
Phalaborwa Express can bite the bullet and contribute – he is still seeking a
scalp in the match - on the increasingly abrasive surface on Saturday.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing