On the bright side for SA?

2011-12-29 00:00

CAPE TOWN — A tendency to perform significantly better in their second innings at Kingsmead after a bungled first will be keeping embattled South Africa hopeful of not losing the second Test to Sri Lanka.

There had 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 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.

This tendency to bat better in the second innings undoubtedly applies to this contest, with Graeme Smith’s team succumbing for a record low 168 against Sri Lanka and surrendering a damaging advantage to the tourists of 170 runs even before the visitors set about their second knock.

Nevertheless, whatever they are eventually set as a victory target at Kingsmead, South Africa should take some heart from their 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 time 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 for 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. That 340 for five total also remains the most successful fourth-knock chase in all Tests at the ground.

That great effort was highlighted by Herschelle Gibbs’s century (104) and his opening stand of 142 with South African coach Gary Kirsten, and it came against an attack boasting such legends as Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane 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, the overnight and early morning rain that 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 at least, 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. But there is no disputing the fact that Sri Lanka remain easily the happier side to be in as things stand.

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