It’s all square in damp Durban

2009-12-28 00:00

WITH the Boxing Day Test so tantalisingly poised, the neutrals will be hoping for some sun at Kingsmead today. England certainly took honours yesterday, as a whirlwind start to their innings took the gloss of South Africa’s late defiance with the bat.

Dale Steyn’s return was welcomed by all and sundry connected to the Proteas, but few expected his first act to be a bludgeoning 47 in fairly desperate circumstances.

Steyn’s batting has come a long way, with a lot of that being down to Duncan Fletcher’s insistence that tailenders also put in the hard yards in the nets.

That hard work is paying off, with South Africa’s tail having contributed priceless runs in the last two matches, and also in their barnstorming successes last season.

Yesterday, Steyn took a liking to Graeme Swann, who was England’s best bowler by some margin. Someone obviously forgot to tell that to South Africa’s premier fast bowler.

Three sixes — each one larger than the one before it — found their way to the Barmy Army side of the ground, and the Proteas’ dressing room had plenty to laugh about and also to be thankful for as a last wicket stand of 58 wrested the iniativie away from England.

What had started as a bit of irritation should really have served as a great source of inspiration, but the Proteas’ bowling at the start of the England innings was really woeful.

Makhaya Ntini was the chief culprit, serving up a menu of delicious long-hops and creamy half-volleys. Andrew Strauss, as any decent batsman should, simply gobbled it all up, and suddenly the extra runs added by Steyn and Ntini had been reduced to nothing but a waste of time.

Strauss and the embattled Alastair Cook raced along at nearly six runs an over at the start, and any pressure that the new ball could have exerted disappeared behind the ever-present cloud cover.

South Africa’s own total was worth at least an extra 50 runs, as they bore the brunt of a damp outfield. They will surely look back on Saturday afternoon as a key phase of this second Test, when stalwarts Smith and Jacques Kallis both perished for 75 after an exceptional fightback. Most scribes had already chalked them both down for Test centuries, but Kallis was undone by the persistent Swann.

Smith’s dismissal was worthy of its own comedy slot, so convincing was AB de Villiers’ dance, dilly-dally and dummy.

Funny though it was, it was also a massive psychological blow as Smith had toiled manfully up to that point.

He had spoken about enjoying the pressure of having to make runs and captain, so a century here would have been the perfect response to England’s mind games.

But when he went, South Africa’s sails seemed to hit a snag, and JP Duminy never looked settled in his brief visit to the middle.

Yesterday’s bright start for the Proteas was down to some very enterprising strokeplay by Mark Boucher.

The nugetty stump-minder obviously didn’t take kindly to being bullied out of bed by the ultra-early start, and he bashed his way to a hearty 39 before being a victim of technology.

No Englishman would have complained had he been given not out to the most marginal of calls, but such is the power of Hawk-Eye that Boucher was robbed of a most deserved half-century.

It seems the Proteas are suffering this time around, just as England felt the brunt of the replays in Pretoria.

De Villiers’s half-century was responsible, but he then fell immediately after reaching the milestone, paving the way for the Steyn show.

England’s bright start has certainly put them in the pound seats, but the weather is not playing along.

The stands at Kingsmead have been taken over by foreigners, with the Barmy Army and even the odd German revelling in conditions more suitable for Dublin than Durban.

If we are to get a result out of this game, it will take an almighty collapse from someone.

But don’t bet your beer on it.

South Africa first innings

G Smith run out75

A Prince c Swann b Anderson2

H Amla lbw Broad2

J Kallis c Collingwood b Swann75

AB de Villiers c Prior b Broad50

JP Duminy lbw Onions4

M Boucher lbw Swann39

M Morkel lbw23

P Harris lbw Swann2

D Steyn c Prior b Anderson47

M Ntini not out6

Extras (1b, 17lb)18

Total (all out)343 - 108.3

Fall of wickets: 1-3 , 2-10 , 3-160 , 4-166, 5-170, 6-233, 7-269, 8-280, 9-285, 10-343

Bowling: Anderson 28.3-4-75-2, Onions 23-6-62-1, Broad 20-6-44-2, Swann 35-3-110-4, Trott 4-0-19-0, Pietersen 2-0-7-0, Collingwood 1-0-8-0

England first innings

A Strauss b Morkel54

A Cook not out31

J Trott not out17

Extras (1nb)1

Total (for 1 wkt)103 - 26 overs

Fall of wickets: 1-71

Bowling: Steyn 8.2-1-30-0, Ntini 3-0-25-0, Morkel 9-3-22-1, Kallis 2-0-12-0 (1nb), Harris 4-0-14-0.

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