Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A modern tendency to perform
significantly better in their second innings at Kingsmead after a bungled first
will be keeping embattled South Africa hopeful of at least not losing the
second Test to Sri Lanka.
There has understandably been much debate
around the Proteas’ mounting Test-match jinx at the Durban venue – to some
extent it applies to major one-day tournaments as well – but less discussed,
maybe, has been their post-isolation habit of batting considerably better in
their second turn at the crease there (and the match’s fourth knock) after a
putrid first innings.
The last-named characteristic undoubtedly applies
to this contest, of course, with Graeme Smith’s team succumbing for a record
low 168 against these foes and surrendering a damaging advantage to the tourists
of 170 even before the Lankans set about their second knock.
Nevertheless, whatever they are eventually
set as a victory target at Kingsmead, South Africa should take some heart from
a recent record of being much more resilient there when they bat again.
Two instances against Australia -- a
stronger outfit each time than they are in this current period of uncertainty
and transition -- spring to mind.
The most recent was in March 2009 when the
Proteas were set a highly unlikely 546 to win, thanks mainly to their own
ineptitude in the first innings when they were rolled for 138.
But at least, even in defeat, they posted
an infinitely more respectable 370 batting last, occupying the crease for 132
overs – effectively about a day and a half. Jacques Kallis scored 93 and AB de
Villiers also held the fort gallantly for his 84.
The previous occasion was in a famous,
series whitewash-avoiding victory against the Baggy Greens in 2001/02, when
they chased down a target of 335 for the loss of only five wickets: the 340 for
five total also remains the most successful fourth-knock chase in all Tests at
That great effort was highlighted by
Herschelle Gibbs’s century (104) and his opening stand of 142 with current SA
coach Gary Kirsten – and it came against an attack boasting such legends as
Messrs McGrath, Lee and Warne.
Again, the South African first innings had
been awful – 167 all out.
As has almost always been the case at
Kingsmead, with its delightful vagaries and superstitions, the weather for the
remainder of this match could play an important role in deciding which side
wins – or indeed whether the Proteas are capable of stonewalling effectively
enough for a stalemate if the target proves just too steep for them.
The general principle in Durban is that if
the sun shines for significant periods, batting conditions can be favourable
even if the game is at a fairly advanced stage.
As Hashim Amla pointed out in a television
interview before play on Wednesday, the overnight and early morning rain which
delayed the start may have the effect of “binding” the pitch rather than
hastening its break-up and the attached danger of variable bounce.
Several of the SuperSport commentators
seemed to think that chasing down 350 was not beyond the Proteas, although
anything above that does look a particularly tall order.
Also to consider is that although there is
plenty of time left in the Test on paper, the light is always an issue at
Kingsmead – especially in final sessions – so there may be much less cricket
left than some people realise.
The Proteas getting off the hook by not
losing, and thus going to Cape Town for the final Test still 1-0 to the good,
remains a very feasible possibility, I think.
But that is also not disputing the fact
that Sri Lanka’s boots remain easily the happier ones to be in as things stand