SA’s Durban bogey stirs afresh

Dean Elgar (Gallo Images)
Dean Elgar (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The Proteas have lost four of their last five Test matches at Kingsmead; the unpalatable thought looms that it might very shortly become five out of six.

It’s their anti-fortress, if you like, and pure common sense as things stand suggests that at some time within the next two days this fragile, increasingly rickety and unsettled outfit will get another reminder of the phenomenon.

England only rammed home an advantage some of their own players and pundits had been too diplomatic to acknowledge already existed after Sunday’s play as they took a particularly firm hold on day three of the first Test on Monday.

The tourists will enter the last two days 261 runs to the good and boasting as many as seven second-innings wickets in hand, with every chance that the first two sessions on Tuesday will be primarily about how many more runs Alastair Cook feels he needs before ringing a declaration bell.

It is hard to see South Africa, their attack badly affected by injury woes swirling around veteran spearhead Dale Steyn, mustering enough remaining energy on the disappointingly sluggish surface to rip through the tourists’ lengthy batting order and suddenly be chasing a target within the 330-340 range that would at least carry a faint glow of hunt-down possibility.

Mind you, there is already a justifiable feeling among critics that anything north of 300 will be a really demanding ask for Hashim Amla’s side – fielding a handful of palpably out-of-form frontline customers with the willow – so England are within touching distance anyway of stretching their lead to at least that figure.

Morne Morkel has been a beacon of light among the hard-pressed and understaffed Proteas pace division, and was not helped at all on the middle day of the contest by seeing as many as three chances put down off his durable bowling – just another department where the fast-fading world No 1-ranked side are coming up worrisomely short of past standards these days.

One of the beneficiaries was England’s blue-chip batsman Joe Root, who was on six when AB de Villiers put him down behind the stumps and by the close had advanced to a calm, mostly accomplished 60.

Speaking of light, there was more of that in the shape of Dean Elgar, who fought an ongoing, virtually lone battle at the crease for his country on Monday, and may never again find himself in the position of scoring 118 unbeaten runs in a Test whilst the remainder of his colleagues muster only a further 96 to the cause between them.

In becoming the sixth South African – and second since unity after Gary Kirsten in Pakistan in 1997 – to carry his bat through a completed innings, the diminutive left-hander earned rich praise from, among others, another stoical crease-occupier in Mike Atherton, the former England captain guesting as a SuperSport commentator.

Atherton described Elgar as “compact and composed” and displaying a “fighting attitude”.

He added: “He’s been top-class. They tell me he’s from Welkom and that they breed them tough there ... is that right?”

Compatriot Kepler Wessels, meanwhile, said he was “very pleased for (Elgar); a real scrapper ... he has absolutely cemented himself at the top of the order”.

Those would have been reassuring words to a great many distressed Proteas enthusiasts, who otherwise see only leaks developing at a fast rate to a once sturdy SA batting hull.

South Africa’s goose isn’t quite cooked yet.

But I may not be alone in sensing that an English chef is already stirring oil and onions with some sense of eagerness and vigour in a sizzling pot ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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