Proteas | Under-performing bowlers left with a mountain

Keshav Maharaj (left) and Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis (Gallo).
Keshav Maharaj (left) and Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis (Gallo).

Cape Town - The batting collapse late on Day 2 sparked South Africa's loss of control in the second Test against England at Newlands, but Sunday's under-par bowling performance fuelled it. 

The hosts are now staring down the barrel of a defeat that would leave the series tied at 1-1 with Tests in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg to come, and while coach Mark Boucher remains optimistic, he acknowledged after play on Sunday that his bowlers had not been at their best. 

England now have a lead of 264 with six second-innings wickets remaining and two full days to play, leaving them as overwhelming favourites. 

While the intent was there from the Proteas, with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje bowling with serious gas throughout the day, the rewards were not, and the hosts picked up just four wickets. 

All-rounder Dwaine Pretorius could not provide economical control early on, Rabada and Nortje never had the penetration they would have liked while spinner Keshav Maharaj bowled 27 wicket-less overs without ever threatening the English top order. 

Then there was Vernon Philander, playing his 11th and final Test match at Newlands, who also went wicket-less despite bowling 12 overs for just 12 runs. 

Speaking after the day's play, Boucher explained that Philander had woken up on Sunday morning feeling slightly ill. 

"Vern probably didn't bowl with the same venom that he usually has. He felt a little bit sick this morning, so I think that maybe played a role," the coach explained. 

A developing crack bowling from the Wynberg end to the Kelvin Grove end is something both bowling attacks have looked to exploit in this Test match, but it did not offer the seamers as much assistance as Boucher was hoping for on Sunday. 

"Everyone is talking about the crack going from the Wynberg end down, and it just didn't seem to misbehave as much as we expected it to," he said.

"Looking from the side it did look like the wicket had flattened out quite a bit and there wasn't as much lateral movement as there was in the first two days."

The real disappointment from a South African perspective, though, was Maharaj. 

A spinner with a reputation for being both an attacking and defensive option for his side depending on the match situation, the left-arm orthodox could not control the game on Sunday. 

At one point, he was bowling over the wicket and into the rough outside leg stump to the right-handers in a desperate effort to try and manufacture some turn as the Proteas looked for a breakthrough. 

It didn't work, and Boucher's assessment was that there was a lack of accuracy. 

"I thought that Kesh bowled really well in the first innings and in the second innings there was an immediate plan to take him on a bit more," he explained.

"There wasn't much turn from the straight, so we decided to try use what the pitch had on offer, which was the rough.

"Although we did create a few chances, unfortunately he probably didn't land the ball in the right areas for long periods of time and that's why they probably scored a lot of runs off him as well.

"Kesh is a work in progress and we've worked on a couple of changes in his bowling. He might be a bit low on confidence not having picked up the wickets that he probably would have wanted to. We'll keep working with him to try and get him to where we want him to be."

When the Proteas take to the field on Monday, they will be one over away from the second new ball where Rabada and Philander will have to be significantly improved if they are to give their side what is looking an increasingly unlikely hope of avoiding defeat.

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