Cape Town – There was much, inevitable trumpeting of how the Test series between the Proteas and Australia might well pit the best two pace attacks in the world against each other.
But this is South Africa in 2018 and Kingsmead, like several other pitches countrywide, is beginning to look increasingly dry and jaded.
Some things stay the same in Durban: like a bit more Gupta-linked branding than you might wish to see (Sahara still splashed gaudily on at least one stand’s roof, ANN7 sightscreen advertising), problems with the light before the last hour of play, and far too many empty seats.
Yet on day one of the otherwise keenly-anticipated first Test on Thursday (Australia 225 for five), what stood out more than anything else – after a just about evenly-contested 76 overs, and the two sides feeling each other out like boxers in the very-little-leather opening round – was that spin will probably come into the picture with increasing prominence as the match grinds on.
Left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj has already accounted for almost a third of the overs that were possible, and seven more personally than sent down by any SA seamer.
Not only that, but he picked up the precious scalp of the fabulously on-song No 1-ranked batsman on the planet - the Baggy Greens’ skipper Steve Smith soon after duly registering yet another half-century in the five-day format - and Shaun Marsh for good measure.
Smith, the quirkily twitchy but sublime right-hander, had been looking ominously - if you were a Proteas enthusiast – at ease on the slow pitch, and if there was an element of luck to his dismissal it was only because he nicked an attempted cut onto the lower body of wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock for it to balloon up to AB de Villiers for a simple close-in grab.
Maharaj was in the game unusually quickly, being introduced for the 11th over, and immediately found some noticeable turn; former dual international Kepler Wessels in the SuperSport commentary booth picked up on the fact that foot-holes were already becoming apparent. (There was the odd puff of dust before the day was done, too.)
The South African front-liner in the slow department combined decent control – well within three runs to the over – with admirable guile and variation it will be a surprise, you feel, if he isn’t in further business in the wickets column over the remaining few days.
This, remember, is his 17th Test but treasured first one in the city he was born in and for whom he represents the local franchise.
But then what about the Aussie spin threat?
It will come, probably exclusively, from the seasoned off-spinner Nathan Lyon, also experiencing his first Test match at Kingsmead even as this represents his 75th appearance in the premier landscape.
The 30-year-old from New South Wales is just as likely to have a strong say in the fate of the fixture, although the strip also has potential – especially if the weather stays largely fine and warm, as is anticipated – to aid reverse swing for the pacemen.
Lyon is probably hoping for a pretty decent workload, when the tourists eventually take to the field, for the Aussie spearhead and 1.93m-tall left-arm strike bowler Mitchell Starc, whose deliveries from over the wicket should scuff up enough turf for his benefit.
He has only played five prior Tests in South Africa, at other venues, and taken 12 wickets at a not yet special average of 36.
But Lyon does sport a five-for (5/130, first innings) from the February 2014 meeting at St George’s Park, albeit that the home team roared to a 231-run victory then.
This one? After the attrition-based but still engrossing first day, it’s really as much up for grabs as when the toss was taken at 09:30 …
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