Sloppy SA should still walk it

Proteas (AP)
Proteas (AP)
Cape Town - With words like “immense” used to describe the Black Caps and a self-deprecating “terrible” to sum up a particular period of play by the Proteas on Thursday, it was tempting to wonder just for a second whether it is New Zealand firmly bossing the first Test at Newlands here.

Of course, though, No 1-ranked South Africa continue to overwhelmingly hold the whip hand after two days - and may well yet prevail by an innings and before the encounter even reaches its intended halfway point.

That scenario coming to fruition would leave spectators of the more neutral variety a little miffed (the third day’s play has apparently again had pretty rosy ticket sales), but hardcore fans of the Proteas will also be willing it on, as evidence of a new-found remorseless in the team.

Full scorecard

Video highlights: South Africa v New Zealand: 1st Test, day 2

So feeble was the tourists’ first-day effort, including that abject 45 all out, that even a significantly steelier showing over the next three sessions - which largely occurred, to their credit - was likely to leave them still knee-deep in the smelly stuff.

New Zealand remain 133 runs in arrears with six wickets remaining in their second innings, and the pitch continues to offer enough aid and occasional eccentricity to the fast bowlers to suggest that a revisit of a pack-of-cards-collapse phenomenon is entirely possible.

Get there in time for the 10:30 start, is my advice for those hoping to see a meaningful enough dollop of cricket on Friday.

The Black Caps are very close to quadrupling their first-dig total, thanks to the welcome defiance of captain Brendon McCullum and then the usefully Western Australian born-and-raised Dean Brownlie, who remains unbeaten on 69 and within nine runs of bettering his previous best Test knock, 77 not out against the very Aussies in Brisbane last season.

But with the South Africans having mixed some rank waywardness and fits of butterfingers in the field with still regular bursts of genuine menace, all it may take to flatten the rest of the tourists’ order is a return to more expected levels of consistency in the morning play - and throughout the Test thus far, it is the first session that has produced the most in terms of “skittles”, remember.

He was perhaps being a little more cruel than he needed to be, but in a generally blunt, no-bull-dust appearance at the post-play press conference on Thursday, century-making Proteas opening batsman Alviro Petersen lambasted a passage in which they leaked boundaries at an unsatisfactory rate and also spilled three catches in the space of two overs.

“We just played terrible cricket, to be frank ... not the standards we set ourselves.”

Petersen also revealed that the eventful match was taking place on a “difficult wicket - especially yesterday (Wednesday)”.

He added: “You had to be disciplined (as a batsman); it felt more like it was a day three or four strip. I don’t know if it was over-prepared.”

The up-and-down bounce at times was evidently enough to dissuade Graeme Smith, the home captain, from exposing his most genuine tail-enders to batting on it - hence the first-knock declaration with two wickets still to play with.

“We said we didn’t want Dale (Steyn) or Morne (Morkel) to bat; it was as simple as that,” said Petersen.

Meanwhile the rather ego-battered and occasionally physically bruised New Zealanders are doing their level best to draw optimism, perhaps in broader series terms, from their day-two sturdiness with both ball and willow.

Veteran fast bowler Chris Martin said: “Compared to (Wednesday) this was immense ... a much sterner fight by the team.

“We’ve basically started our Test with (day two) which we know is not the ideal way to go about it. At least we stuck the chest out a bit more.

“It’s definitely a new-ball pitch; it gets a bit easier to score when the ball goes softer.”

With so humungous an amount of time left in the game, the Black Caps face a tricky little balancing act: pure survival on the one hand and 28 more overs of attempted old-ball “cash in” in runs terms before another of those dreaded new cherries becomes available.

A hunch is that the Test may not drag out quite that far, particularly if the Proteas are suitably irritated by their wee Thursday lapses ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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