SA in New Zealand

Wanted: Proteas ton-maker!

2012-03-08 09:48
Jacques Kallis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Someone to finally get to three figures ... that would be worth gold for South Africa in their intriguing first-Test tussle with New Zealand in Dunedin.

Honours were notably even in scorebook terms after day two on a sunny Thursday at the delightful University Oval, albeit with the Proteas entitled to suspect they may still hold the aces as it is the Black Caps who will have to bat last.

The New Zealand first innings lead is a flimsy five runs with one wicket in hand, and the knowledge to the tourists that Chris Martin, a No 11 bunny of legendary proportions, is at the crease to make any prospect of stretching that advantage much further highly unlikely.

The new ball is in the South Africans’ hands and already been used to good effect just before Thursday’s close - plus at one end the unfailing Vernon Philander is sniffing hungrily at an incredible fifth five-wicket haul in only nine innings; his figures stood at four for 50 at stumps.

Philander has grabbed 34 scalps in basically four and a half Test matches, at an average of 13.14 and strike rate of 25.2.

Although the 26-year-old led the way again with his guile and nagging accuracy, the entire Proteas attack deserve credit for the way they stuck to their guns on a really important day for the cause, considering that the batsmen had posted an insufficient 238 all out and the visitors may have been staring at serious trouble had the underdogs really got away from them in their own first dig.

Instead the Black Caps’ innings has thus far followed a remarkably similar pattern, with three of their batsmen getting out in the forties - Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori - whereas in the South African knock a trio got fifties without anyone kicking on.

So far the longest vigil at the crease has come from the Proteas’ middle-order man Jacques Rudolph, whose 52 came in 162 minutes.

The pitch seems a fair enough one with something in it to suit all cricketing comers, and it is clear that lapses in concentration, perhaps combined to an extent with good pressure-building from bowlers, have played a major role in nobody seeing the job through to three figures yet.

With Friday again set pretty fair from a weather point of view and no significant signs of decay in the strip yet, the Proteas’ proven, star-studded line-up has a tantalising opportunity to atone for the first-innings mediocrity.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the tourists will be pinning their hopes on at least one of their big names to play a genuinely weighty innings: if an individual does grind out a century, they might be well-placed to achieve a total of 300 or thereabouts.

And if that objective can be achieved, South Africa’s prospects of winning the Test will soar accordingly.

The only Proteas batsman, perhaps, with a minor lack-of-nick issue at present is Jacques Kallis, with successive tour scores thus far of 13 and four (from the ODIs) and nought in this match’s first knock, but that might only mean he is due for the kind of big ‘un we almost take for granted from him.

Apart from their seamers generally operating industriously and with discipline to accompany occasional physical menace, leg-spinner Imran Tahir has produced arguably his most compelling first-innings performance with ball in hand, quite obviously lifting hopes that he could be a major handful in the second.

Tahir combined attacking wizardry - he deserved more than his lone scalp, albeit the important one of McCullum - with a welcome ability to strangle the flow of runs too, allowing Graeme Smith the luxury of awarding him fairly long spells.

 An economy rate of 2.29 in 24 overs by a “leggie” tells you plenty about his blossoming in that regard.

Still, let’s not forget that the unfancied New Zealanders will be fairly chuffed with the way this captivating game stands.

As Cricinfo rightly noted, the Test almost certainly now boils down to a one-innings shootout ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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