SA set to reclaim PE

2014-12-24 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The fact that their Test tour moves onward to Port Elizabeth is perhaps the lone solace for West Indies to bank after their depressing capitulation to number one-ranked South Africa in the first clash at Centurion.

By setting up camp on the Eastern Cape coast for the Boxing Day Test — the second in a three-game series — the embattled visitors from the Caribbean at least know that they’re revisiting St George’s Park, scene of their sole Test triumph on our soil in the equivalent ­festive season fixture of the 2007/08 season.

The difference then was that it was the first of three Tests (the Proteas eventually hit back to clinch the spoils 2-1) and at a time when the hosts were already earning a reputation for being annoyingly lethargic starters to series.

Current SA coach Russell Domingo has made it a policy not to dwell on the phenomenon for fear that it becomes a genuine phobia for his charges, so maybe the crushing first-Test victory was a signal that the tactic is just starting to pay dividends.

West Indies might be even more under the cosh if the Proteas now go into more customary mode of warming to their task properly from a second Test onward.

Nevertheless, the tourists will hope that Port Elizabeth somehow proves once more to be a welcome sanctuary for them, seven years after their last, duck-breaking victory there — by the comprehensive margin, into the bargain, of 128 runs.

That austere organ The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, in its official match report, described it as a “performance of rousing passion” by the underdogs, who were just about in the same state of crisis in the five-day arena as they are now.

A few Proteas egos were popped on that occasion, after Graeme Smith won the toss and confidently inserted the West Indians.

Aided by the brazen aggression of a certain Chris Gayle (badly missed injured for the Test portion of the present tour), the Windies had hoisted 100 runs as quickly as the 17th over, for the loss only of Darren Ganga to Andre Nel.

It set the tone for the remainder of their crucial first innings, as they showed welcome application in amassing 408, with great displays of endurance from two of their batsman who will be key elements of the latest Port Elizabeth clash — Shivnarine Chanderpaul, now a 40-year-old ultra-veteran, and Marlon Samuels.

Chanderpaul batted for a typically dogged 394 minutes in scoring 104, whilst the right-handed Samuels fell to Dale Steyn just six runs short of three figures, after defying the Proteas for four-and-a-half hours himself.

Then, with all-rounder Dwayne Bravo and currently out-of-sorts strike bowler Jerome Taylor to the fore — they grabbed seven scalps between them — South Africa were rolled for 195 (AB de Villiers 59).

West Indies did not enforce the follow-on, and instead posted 175 all out in their second dig, which still left the Proteas a steep target of 389 on a deteriorating pitch to win.

Completion of a “pair” in the Test for opener Herschelle Gibbs hardly represented the ideal start, and the hosts eventually subsided to 260 all out despite the best efforts of established maestro Jacques Kallis (85) and another half-century for De Villiers.

The match amounted to one of South Africa’s most ignominious home-turf defeats of the post-isolation era, a situation relatively unaltered to this day given the enduringly lowly status on the world ladder of the Caribbean side.

If Domingo wishes to remind his Proteas charges that burial of their “first-Test syndrome” at Centurion doesn’t mean they can now step off the pedal complacently in the follow-up fixture, he could do worse than point to that festive season flop of late 2007 in PE.

Anyone fancy the underdogs to repeat that landmark result? I know I am disinclined to believe it will happen, based on the glaringly one-sided evidence of Centurion.

That game seven years back, after all, represented the culmination of a difficult spell in Test matches at St George’s Park for SA, as it came on the heels of successive defeats there to Pakistan (January 2007) and England (December 2004) and a draw with India in November 2001.

Since then, the Proteas have rather put the mini-bogey to bed, with victories against first New Zealand and then last summer’s disposal of Australia — when Steyn and company produced a masterclass in reverse swing — to level the three-Test series at 1-1 after a whipping at ­SuperSport Park.

There seems a significantly better-than-even chance that Hashim Amla’s side will continue the campaign to restore PE as some sort of fortress for the home cause.

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