at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
First Test, day two
New Zealand 45 and 169/4
South Africa 347/8 declared
Newlands - For the duration of the first day, New Zealand looked like a club side that had taken the wrong turn on the Nelson Mandela Boulevard and mistakenly found their way to Newlands.
On Thursday, the tourists regrouped after their worst day of Test cricket in years to restore some sort of credibility to the battered silver fern that adorns the black cap. The Kiwis still have some way to go to reach parity or, even better yet, avoid an inevitable defeat, but they have at least ensured the match will go into a third day today.
It was never pretty, but it was never supposed to be – not after being rolled for 45, New Zealand’s third-lowest Test score in history, in just 19.2 overs before lunch on the opening day. Old-fashioned grit and courage were called for and, to Brendon McCullum and his team’s credit, they at least showed some willingness to scrap it out there with the very best the game has to offer at the moment.
They needed to start well with the ball to have any chance of getting back into the ring, let alone the contest, and duly did by picking up first-day centurion Alviro Petersen in the second over. They never quite steamrolled the Proteas like they would have hoped for with AB de Villiers registering another half-century in the process, but at least the home side did not gallop to a total in excess of 400.
“We said at lunch time already that we did not want Morné (Morkel) and Dale (Steyn) to bat,” Petersen explained. “So, we made that call and stuck with it and made sure the batsmen got the runs.”
New Zealand had to be content with small mercies, and Graeme Smith offered them some respite when he declared the Proteas’ first innings closed when the lead sneaked over 300.
It remained a daunting task, though, and when Martin Guptill chipped Dale Steyn to short mid-wicket in the first over of the second innings, the host union was contemplating the loss of three days’ projected income.
The situation called for a captain’s innings. Not the kind that McCullum is inclined to play in limited-overs and Twenty20 cricket, where vicious uppercuts slashed over the slip cordon are customary. Instead, it required mental application where a ball left outside the off stump is as valuable as the booming cover drive.
A bit of luck was also needed – and South Africa duly contributed when Jacques Kallis dropped the Kiwis’ skipper at second slip.
McCullum played a delightfully restrained innings. If the ball was pitched up by the South African bowlers, he showed the full face of the bat to play it straight back at them. When it was ferociously dug in short, and there were many of those during the afternoon, McCullum ducked, weaved and accepted the body blows.
In fact, such was his self-discipline that, in the 19 overs before tea, he managed only a single boundary off a Morné Morkel yorker that he dug out.
Young Kane Williamson followed his skipper’s lead and would have harboured thoughts of repeating his Wellington vigil when he kept this Proteas attack at bay for the entire day to salvage a draw in the final Test at the Basin Reserve last year. But it was not to be with the ageless Kallis finding his outside edge.
In fact, Williamson would have been livid with his dismissal considering he was afforded the good fortune of South Africa not using the UDRS to their advantage when they could have called for a television review after first-innings destroyer Vernon Philander rapped him on the pads when he had just four.
The Proteas would have been disappointed with their effort in the field on Thursday. The bowlers stuck to their task and created chances, but the fielders dropped their intensity.
Dean Elgar, who managed to score his first run in Test cricket earlier in the day without really making any lasting impression, dropped New Zealand’s top-scorer, Dean Brownlie, in the gully. The undefeated Brownlie (69 not out) was afforded another lifeline when Petersen spilled one behind the wicket.
“We played terrible cricket. Our bowling wasn’t up to scratch and our fielding wasn’t up to scratch. Frankly, for that hour we didn’t play particularly well. It was not the usual standard we set ourselves,” Petersen said at the close of play.
Robin Peterson got the breakthrough when he trapped McCullum leg before as the sun started disappearing behind Table Mountain.
Brownlie has certainly showed the aptitude to be successful at this level during his three-hour stay at the crease, but, unfortunately for the visitors, they are going to need so much more from him.
Plays of the day:
Crowd Reaction: The loud cheers the Newlands crowd gave to Dean Elgar when he scored off his very first ball. The run was Elgar’s first for his country after his double pair against Australia on his debut.
Controversy: The decision not to give Elgar out lbw will be biggest point of controversy for the day with Hawkeye clearly showing that the ball would have gone on to clatter into the stumps. New Zealand did not appeal for the dismissal and chose not to review.
Ball: Dale Steyn showed some aggression throughout the day’s play, none more so than in his eighth over, when he bowled a wicked bouncer to McCullum that struck the New Zealand skipper on the shoulder.
Catch: Kane Williamson’s to dismiss Faf du Plessis. A good low catch in the gully position that saw the New Zealander to go down to his knees to claim the catch.
Shot: New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum led from the front and his great flick off the pads to put Dale Steyn away for a four was his and the day’s best shot. The boundary also brought up the 50 run mark for New Zealand.
Four-Leaf Clover: Dean Brownlie was dropped twice in two overs on 23. The first drop came in the 24th over with Elgar failing to catch the ball off Steyn’s bowling and then Alviro Petersen failed to hang on to a catch off Vernon Philander the very next over.