Cape Town – Sacrificing both opening batsmen, including the in-form Dean Elgar, before stumps on Thursday certainly wouldn’t have been in the South African battle-plan.
But there is a case for arguing that the Proteas may, nevertheless, still slightly command the aces over New Zealand ahead of day two of the second Test in Wellington.
Following the closely-fought, eventually weather-curtailed draw in the opening encounter, fortunes stayed on a relative knife-edge at the close of the first day’s play in this middle Test match, with the tourists 24 for two in reply to the Black Caps’ first knock of 268 all out.
Again it’s seesawing stuff on paper … but recent patterns at the Basin Reserve do suggest, a little invitingly to Faf du Plessis and his troops, that there is great potential for the Proteas – assuming they first stabilise their innings satisfactorily – to potentially yet prosper quite lavishly and open up a handsome advantage.
The venue, over at least the last three years or so, has generally been marked by a difficult old time of it for the team taking first strike (Du Plessis probably had little hesitation in sending NZ in on Thursday) but then batting suddenly being a notably regal business between, roughly speaking, days two and four.
Of course there is absolutely no guarantee that the phenomenon will again take root in this fixture, especially as the pitch reportedly spent so much time necessarily covered in the lead-up days after generous amounts of rain and cloud.
But it got some nice sunshine on it during Thursday, and weather prospects for the remainder of the Test look chipper as well, so there is a chance it will offer progressively less seam movement in the next couple of days while retaining healthy carry – something several Proteas stroke-players ought to appreciate.
The key on this strip, as it so often is anyway in Test cricket, seems to be to survive the challenging initial period of your knock to be able to cash in markedly later.
That happened to an extent during the Black Caps’ first dig, with left-hander Henry Nicholls, who took guard at a ropey 21 for three and not even 11 overs completed, gradually flourishing more and more en route to a maiden century in his 13th Test.
His sixth-wicket partnership of 116 – a Kiwi record against South Africa – with Durban-born wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who was perfectly happy to graft his way at a strike rate of 25.75 to 34 before an unlucky dismissal, demonstrated the rewards for application.
With Elgar and a currently all-at-sea Stephen Cook dislodged before the close to undo some of the decent work done by the Proteas in the field – part-time spinner JP Duminy earned a career-best analysis of four for 47 – the Black Caps will also know that several other elements to the SA batting line-up aren’t firing especially consistently at present.
Yet day two has traditionally become a bumper one for batsmen at the Basin Reserve – ask Bangladesh’s all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, who blasted all but five of his personal 217 runs on that day alone in the last Test match at the venue in January.
In the previous Test, after New Zealand had been bundled out for 183 on the first day, Australia also prospered greatly the next day in February last year, en route to a formidable reply of 562 (Adam Voges 239) that knocked the mental stuffing from the Black Caps as they crashed to an innings loss.
A Test in January 2015 also produced some second-day fireworks at the crease after bowlers had reigned supreme the day before: Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara struck 203 to convert a shaky overnight situation of 78/5 (in reply to 221) to a much more robust 356 all out by the visitors.
Similarly, around a year earlier the Black Caps were bowled out for 192 on day one, only for the Test to develop into a veritable orgy of runs – India made well over 400, and then even the NZ second innings was a monster 680 for eight declared, with Brendon McCullum earning his career-best 302.
So who wants to knuckle down smartly, Proteas? The fruits could be blissful.
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