Cape Town – First we thought it was a problem primarily afflicting
the batting department of the tumbling giant that is the South African Test
Then along came Ben Stokes and his fellow-English company to
emphatically spread the rot to the bowling division as well as the tourists’
first innings turned into an unexpectedly swollen and riotous affair at
The Proteas suffered quite probably their worst
post-isolation ignominy on any single day in the field on Sunday – yes, a truly
bloody Sunday – to confirm that their current crisis of form and confidence has
become a universal one, and no longer curtailed merely to issues at the crease.
The pitch map for the South African bowling looked
unpalatably like a collection of randomly-spilled Jelly Tots at a
nine-year-old’s birthday party, which hardly helped quell the staggering
haemorrhaging of runs.
For good measure, their fielding got more and more scratchy
and sometimes even comical as visitors England completed one of their most
prosperous and explosive first innings in history in the second Test.
So South Africa are at least consistent right now in their
rank awfulness, as their retreat from long-time global mastery gathers steam with
fairly alarming earnest.
One saving grace was that they ended Sunday in a welcome, stable
position in their reply, with embattled skipper Hashim Amla unbeaten on a
fluent 64 and clearly determined to stick to his pledge to restore a theme of
leadership by example.
But the story of the day was very much England’s savage
assault, spearheaded by the marvellously clean-striking Stokes, on the Proteas’
inexperienced and increasingly cowed and clueless bowling line-up.
How modern legends and proud competitors like Allan Donald,
Brett Schultz, Fanie de Villiers, Brian McMillan, Makhaya Ntini, Shaun Pollock and
the crocked present absentees Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander must have winced
as they watched the carnage unfold between 10:30 and the relief of declaration
on 629 for six at 14:20.
The Proteas have suffered some reasonably prolonged periods
of angst before, of course, as every team does from time to time when the
opposition hit a purple patch during the course of a Test match.
But it is difficult to recall South Africa, who pride
themselves in gung-ho pace bowling and a generally aggressive attitude, finding
the boot quite so nastily on the other foot for so long.
This had to be a candidate for most nightmarish second new
ball they’ve taken, if you throw in the seeds of intent demonstrated in the fledgling
stages of the mammoth (it would be a multiple record-breaking 399 runs) alliance
between Stokes and Jonny Bairstow near the close of play on day one.
Remember that the tourists were a still-manageable 271 for
five when the faded rock was replaced smack on 80 overs by Amla.
But the 46 runs rattled up in a further seven overs before
stumps then merely served as a minor signal of what was to come the following
In short, South Africa were pummelled for 312 further runs in
an utterly embarrassing 38.5 overs -- their only success a quirky run-out
seconds after AB de Villiers of all people had spilled a pretty routine catch
-- and Stokes (258 off 198 highly eventful deliveries) and Bairstow (150 not
out) achieving personal bests by a long way.
England scored at a searing 8.10 runs to the over during day
two, ahead of Alastair Cook finally calling his men in from the hugely agreeable,
if you were English, assault and battery.
Every Proteas bowler suffered, and you have to say they got
what they deserved considering the meek and disorganised way they started out
their Sunday morning under more blazing sunshine.
The sloppiness was just what Stokes and Bairstow needed to
get into a fresh groove in no time at all, and the cash-in proved well beyond severe.
What it all meant from a South African point of view was
that their current, specialist attack may not even get the opportunity for any
proper sense of atonement in the remainder of the contest, as the danger
clearly exists of an innings defeat should England be in a position to enforce
Even if it doesn’t transpire or they don’t take that option,
any second knock by the visitors seems likely to feature a fairly relaxed
onslaught in pursuit of quick runs to set some kind of target to the vulnerable
So by the time preparations for the third of the four
contests begin – both to be played on the Highveld – the Proteas’ brains trust
will be painfully aware that novices Messrs Morris, Rabada and Piedt ought to
be prone to demoralisation and diminished confidence after all three posted
“centuries” of the undesired kind in their respective analyses.
The infinitely more established Morne Morkel was no great
shakes himself on Sunday, after his weirdly sparse use by Amla a day earlier.
This may seem a premature thought, with so much of the
second Test yet to negotiate, but shaping an attack for the Wanderers from
January 14 already looks a mounting, reasonably grim quandary.
No doubt a Lions-fancying lobby will intensify their call
for stocky, domestically in-form tearaway Hardus Viljoen to earn a crack at the
Bullring, although you also have to consider that Kyle Abbott may have
recovered from his hamstring problem; his endurance and reputation for
discipline have been missed at Newlands.
And what of Steyn and Philander?
Both have been frustrated spectators during the second
encounter at a venue where they have so often prospered previously, and if
passed properly fit these established fighters would be welcomed with open arms
for the second half of the series.
Complicating matters, however, is that they are short of healthy
bowling rhythm and mileage in the legs – particularly in the case of Philander,
who last played competitive cricket in the Mohali Test in very early November.
Problems, dilemmas, uncertainties ... Mr Stokes certainly
hasn’t helped matters for the Proteas, has he?
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