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Second Test, Day 1: South Africa 325/4
Port Elizabeth - Now that’s more like how Test cricket should be played. Penetrating spells with the new ball, hard graft by the batsmen, patience against the spinner followed by a flurry of runs in the late afternoon.
If it doesn’t quite hold the attention of Twenty20 spectators who seek the thrills and spills of last week’s helter-skelter opening day at Newlands, then hard luck. For what the Proteas batsman and a vastly improved New Zealand bowling unit produced on Friday here at St George’s Park is real Test cricket.
It obviously helped that the Kiwis played their part, too. South Africa may already have too many runs, thanks to another splendid unbeaten 108 from the imperious Hashim Amla and further contri- butions from Graeme Smith (58), AB de Villiers (51) and Faf du Plessis (69 not out), but the visitors at least looked like a side worthy of their Test status on Friday.
“They bowled well up front. When I came in, the ball was swinging nicely and they put us under real pressure, but Hash and Faf showed their class and put us in a really strong position,” Proteas vice-captain AB de Villiers said at the close.
The Kiwis, though, would have been disappointed that South Africa managed to get away from them during the last hour, with Amla and Du Plessis playing freely all around the wicket.
To stop Amla from scoring, especially after you had earlier dropped him two runs short of his half-century, is like asking a child not to cry for candy.
Du Plessis, too, regained the touch that earned him hero status in Australia recently, and the pair are looking particularly ominous at the crease.
“We played the last two sessions really well,” De Villiers added. “Hashim is such a wonderful player. I love batting with him. He is really calm. He has been the rock at No3 for us. And we have Jacques (Kallis) at No4. They are the best in the world. We all just feed off them. If we can get another partnership going, New Zealand could be in trouble.”
And to think it was all so different in the morning. New Zealand, after Smith won the toss and elected to bat, bowled with great ferocity during the first hour and could easily have had more than the solitary scalp of Alviro Petersen to show for their effort.
Following on from their promise to be more aggressive in this Test, Doug Bracewell dug one in short which Petersen tried to pull, but could only top-edge a simple catch to Jeetan Patel at fine-leg.
Smith could have followed his opening partner back to the dressing room on numerous occasions with the Kiwis regularly finding his outside edge.
The skipper seemed to be struggling with his balance after a Bracewell bouncer had earlier banged into the back of his head. After receiving on-field treatment, Smith resumed his innings, bravely trying to regain his touch after that painful blow.
Fortune favours the brave, they say, and Smith was riding his luck when Bracewell got one to thud into the left-hander’s pads. The appeal was turned down and the Kiwis failed to request an official review, only for television replays to show the ball would have crashed into Smith’s stumps. It did not matter as Bracewell had overstepped the popping crease.
The captain’s dismissal, caught down the leg-side off South Africa-born left-armer Neil Wagner, was a touch on the soft side though, considering how hard he worked to get to his 36th Test half-century.
His mate, Kallis, was in an entirely different mood. It was almost shot-a-ball from Kallis the moment he walked to the crease. He struck two delightful pull shots off consecutive Bracewell deliveries before the 22-year-old gained his revenge by finding Kallis’s inside edge after the master batsman attempted yet another expansive cover drive.
De Villiers was loath to predict what total South Africa would like to post today, only saying “we’ll try to bat as long as possible” before throwing out “around 500” after further prompting.
Plays of the Day
New Zealand had promised to be more aggressive in this second Test and it was Doug Bracewell who led the charge. He gave Proteas captain Graeme Smith a solid working over, striking him on the back of the helmet with one vicious delivery. Smith, who had turned his head away from the bouncer, crashed to the ground and needed on-field treatment.
Kane Williamson is one of New Zealand’s better cricketers. He is a hugely promising batsman, has a good cricket brain and possesses safe hands. The latter was evident during the recent Sri Lanka series when he took a couple of brilliant catches. Yesterday, though, his hands let him down at a crucial moment when he spilled a flashing Hashim Amla cut shot in the same region.
There are usually many shots to choose from during an Amla century. Yesterday was no different. The powerful sweep shot off Jeetan Patel was a joy to watch, plus the numerous flicks through the leg-side, but the fierce cut in the direction of Duckpond Pavilion where the musical band are located was well applauded by the St George’s Park crowd. It was also the one that took Amla to his century.
The famous band did not have much to sing about during the morning session, but certainly found their voice in late afternoon when Amla and Faf du Plessis were on song. A rendition of the national anthem was again heard, but it had nothing on Amla jou lekker ding when he raised his bat to acknowledge the crowd.