Victorious SA: Only Cook under threat?

2017-03-18 13:00
Stephen Cook (Getty Images)

Cape Town – Thanks to their intensity and voracious appetite that brought an unexpectedly early end to the second Test against New Zealand on Saturday, the Proteas have almost a full week to fine-tune their plans for the decisive third in Hamilton.

They will head off toward Seddon Park – beginning next Saturday -- in supreme mental shape, knowing that a rousing first-innings fightback paved the way for a then particularly clinical showing in Saturday’s intended middle day at the Basin Reserve, where they ran away with the contest for an eight-wicket walloping of the Black Caps and 1-0 series edge.

Tall left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, still only playing in his sixth Test, continued his meteoric progress by being the individual standout as the hosts were bundled out for 171 in their second knock in fewer than 64 overs.

The resourceful 27-year-old, mixing up his angles of attack, flighting his deliveries shrewdly and just looking as though every next ball could never come quickly enough for him, earned a career-best six for 40 and match figures of eight for 87 – enough to rightly command the player-of-the-match award on a pitch that wasn’t expected to favour his trade that markedly.

It was his second “five-for” of the series and he is naturally an assuring presence for the Proteas as the climax of bilateral hostilities Seddon Park, by contrast, is tipped to be played out on considerably more of a noticeable turner.

Already it might well be said that the Black Caps’ own series plans are in considerable danger of unravelling.

Judging by the educated thoughts of several of their ex-players in the television commentary booth, it seems that after the evenly-matched, curtailed Dunedin stalemate, the general idea by the host nation was to budget on another draw in Wellington – potentially a high-scoring one, as the surface was better for batting than the scores indicate – and then strike for an upset series triumph in the third clash with spin a big, perhaps lottery-like element.

Instead New Zealand will be fighting only to save the series in Hamilton, and suddenly also rather more wary of Maharaj (series haul of 13/181 thus far) as a major factor for the buzzing tourists.

While the left-arm spinner got the statistical glory on a clearly chilly, breeze-whipped Saturday, the three-man South African seam attack of Messrs Morkel, Philander and Rabada was consistently potent and energetic too, helping Maharaj in his prosperity with the pressure and often discomfort generated to NZ batsmen from the other end.

Although off-spinner Dane Piedt has flown over to bolster resources in case Seddon Park looks like being an Indian-type dustbowl from very early on, it is hard to see the Proteas bowling line-up changing. (Would they really want any fewer than three pacemen? Somehow you doubt it.)

Yes, that would also mean an almost certain reprieve for under-achieving No 4 batsman JP Duminy, as he can pretty confidently be deployed as the fifth bowler and second spinner again in Hamilton following his personal best of four for 47 in the Black Caps’ first dig.

The SA brains trust will be fully aware that as a collective entity, the batting line-up is firing at alarmingly below full cylinders, and at least minor remedial steps in selection may need to be taken for the decider.

There were rightful fears before this series began that opening batsman Stephen Cook, whose technique is so much better suited to harder, truer surfaces and brighter climes, would find New Zealand – and in not too many months England – a taxing place.

So it has proved, and regrettably then some, so far.

Cook is likeliest omission if it is felt young reserve batsman Theunis de Bruyn should finally get an educative crack at Test level.

As Kepler Wessels reminded, he is a top-order batsman so going straight into an opener’s post would not be too cavalier a move – and there are other possibles from within the current XI who could move up to the front of the order, like aggressive Quinton de Kock or the technically sound-looking and rejuvenated Temba Bavuma.

Sporting only 57 runs at an average of eight from his last seven Test innings, 34-year-old Cook has also only managed 17 in four knocks – and survived just 65 balls in total – across the first two Tests in New Zealand.

Still, a case for giving the three-time Test century-maker another chance is that if Seddon Park is a spinning surface, he may not have to fret quite as much about seam, his exclusive nemesis in the dismissals department in NZ …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  sa in nz  |  stephen cook  |  cricket


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