at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
First Test, day one
New Zealand 45 (Philander 5/7)
South Africa 252/3 (Petersen 103 not out)
Newlands, Cape Town - New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum’s admission on the eve of this first Test against South Africa was “we’re going to have to go up a gear”. What he didn’t realise was that his beleaguered side needed an entire gearbox overhaul, such was the intensity of the Proteas attack at Newlands on Wednesday.
All the doomsayers that had called this series between the World No 1-ranked Proteas and lowly New Zealand a mismatch of epic proportions could not have been more accurate. But then again, it did not take the powers of Nostradamus to know that the Black Caps are currently a horrible excuse for a Test side.
The tourists simply have no gameplan when at the batting crease, where a foolish sense of bravado and zeal to attack only hides the fact they have neither the technical and mental ability nor the backbone to guts it out against, admittedly, the best fast-bowling unit in Test cricket.
And you have to wonder whether it was bold or foolish of McCullum when he chose to have first strike on a greenish Newlands surface. Vernon Philander certainly made it seem the latter when he continued his love affair with his home ground in another famous day in the history of this hallowed venue.
It was only 14 months ago that Philander made his Test debut at the foot of Table Mountain and humbled none other than the previously mighty Australians. He claimed 5/15 in the second innings on that manic day, helping to dismiss the Aussies for 47.
On Wednesday, South Africa’s Cricketer of the Year raised the bar even further – if that was even possible – with a masterclass in new-ball seam bowling.
Those who had taken the early-morning train from Fish Hoek to witness the first ball of the Test would have felt that it was well worth the wait. It was a beauty from Dale Steyn, but it was nothing compared to the 25 balls that Philander delivered from the Wynberg End. Why were 25 balls significant? Because it was all he required to claim five wickets.
Philander tore the heart out of New Zealand’s batting line-up. At one stage, he had bowled 21 balls, claimed three wickets and not conceded even a single run. By the time he had finished his spell, he had the mind-blowing figures of 6-3-7-5 and the visitors’ innings was in ruins at 27/5.
And even when Philander was removed from the attack, partly to protect his dodgy hamstring that had been the cause of much speculation in the build-up to this Test, the Kiwis could only add a further 18 runs with their remaining five batsmen. That is because there is simply no let-up when playing the Proteas, especially with Steyn (2/18) and Morné Morkel (3/14) also snorting to get among the wickets.
Steyn eventually did, when he returned in his second spell from “Philander’s End”, with a vicious outswinger that clattered into Doug Bracewell’s off stump. It was a significant wicket too, Steyn’s 300th in just his 61st Test, to see the great South African fast bowler draw level with Richard Hadlee and Malcolm Marshall in third place on the all-time list of fastest to 300 Test wickets.
If there were any lingering doubts that it was the surface instead of Philander’s brilliance that was the cause of New Zealand’s capitulation in just 19.2 overs, the Proteas batsmen put those theories to rest with a serene display in glorious sunshine during the two afternoon sessions.
Captain Graeme Smith may have been lost early in the reply but, by the time the sun snuck behind the mountain, the lead had already been stretched to a mammoth 207 runs.
There were breezy half-centuries for Hashim Amla (66) and Jacques Kallis (60) that maintained the momentum the bowlers had created in the morning, with Kallis also reaching a significant milestone by passing 13 000 Test runs in the process. He was second-fastest behind India’s Sachin Tendulkar.
However, it was Alviro Petersen who really stuck it to the Kiwis. It was not so much the fact that he carved out a splendid 103 not out, but more the manner in which it was achieved.
He showed patience against the new ball, like good Test openers are paid to do, before punishing the loose ball when the opportunity arose.
If the Kiwis did themselves any favours on Wednesday, they would have paid close attention to Petersen’s innings and hopefully learnt valuable lessons if this Test has any chance of going into a third day.
Plays of the day:
Ball: In a dominating bowling performance by the South African bowlers, Vernon Philander’s 25th delivery to BJ Watling tops the list. The snaking delivery forced Watling to edge it to De Villers for Philander’s fifth wicket.
Shot: Confidence was high among South Africa’s batsmen at Newlands and it was shown by Jacques Kallis’s audacious reverse sweep off Jeetan Patel in the 41st over.
Catch: Amla’s diving effort to dismiss Patel for the eighth wicket is an early contender for catch of the year. Standing at short cover, Amla dived full length to his left and took a brilliant catch.
Eye opener: The New Zealand batsmen will be asking themselves if the stadium’s jazz band’s set was longer than their top order lasted.
Milestone One: With Philander ripping through the New Zealand batsmen, Dale Steyn reminded the world why he is the world’s No 1 with a ferocious delivery to clean bowl Doug Bracewell for his 300th career wicket.
Milestone Two: There are very few who doubt Kallis’s popularity at Newlands and it showed when the world’s best all-rounder brought a huge roar of celebration in the 35th over when he edged Bracewell for four to reach the 13 000th run of his Test career.