South Africa may have won their first Test on home soil upon returning to international cricket at St George’s Park back in 1992, but they have tread rather carefully at the country’s oldest Test venue since.
The Proteas have won just three further Tests after that historic nine-wicket victory over India, with the last success ironically coming against New Zealand back in December 2000. Since then it has all been despair for the Proteas, with a draw and three consecutive defeats (England, Pakistan and West Indies) ensuing.
But for every dark cloud which has hovered over St George’s Park all week leading up to this second Test starting tomorrow, there is some sort of silver lining. And South Africa will look to the 2004 England Test for theirs. Despite the gloom associated with any Test defeat, there were significant positives from that match. South Africa played two Black Africans (Makhaya Ntini and Thami Tsolekile) – an important fact on a day when nine years later Cricket South Africa’s suits were still discussing the urgent need to transform and improve representation of Black Africans at all levels.
It was also the Test which gave birth to the international careers of Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers. They were young and inexperienced back then, now they are street-wise and world class. For De Villiers returning to St George’s Park is an emotional moment.
“It’s always been a special ground, nice to play here, great atmosphere. Feels like yesterday when I made my Test debut here against England. Fond memories of this ground and always love playing here,” De Villiers said yesterday. “I’m not sure why we lost previously in PE. It was probably a bit of a complacent thing, playing a weaker side in the rankings and already 1-0 up in those series and we let it go. We are very much aware of it and our record here in the past and we want to change that.”
There are abundant reasons why the Proteas should improve on their win ratio in Port Elizabeth this weekend. New Zealand are in a current state of malaise, and can only be in a worse place mentally after South Africa thrashed them by an innings and 27 runs in the first Test at Newlands. The Proteas are also ranked No1 in the world in comparison to the Black Caps’ lowly eighth place.
However, like De Villiers alluded to, it is these types of situations that give rise to the Proteas putting in abject performances of their own in the Windy City. High on coach Gary Kirsten and captain Graeme Smith’s radar will be the fact that it does not only happen in PE. In fact, it has regularly occurred at Kingsmead in Durban over Boxing Day, where the Proteas have lost their last two Tests after humbling the opposition in the previous Test.
“It’s always been a big challenge of ours (to maintain standards). We’ve been inconsistent but we constantly talk about it and we want to stay No1 (in the world) for many years to come. We know, though, we’ve got to take it one game at a time. Our focus is now in PE. We haven’t played well here and we want to change that. If we get through this one, it’s definitely a big step in the right direction,” De Villiers stressed yesterday.
It is probable that the hosts will only make the straight swap of Rory Kleinveldt for the injured Vernon Philander. All-rounder Ryan McLaren is an option considering the balance De Villiers brings to the side when he keeps wicket. De Villiers, though, said “that’s up to Graeme and Gary to decide after they’ve assessed the wicket and the conditions. We know what Ryan is capable of – he’s a very good all-round cricketer and we know he can bat so it makes him an option in the side.”
It is unlikely that South Africa would opt for the extra seam-bowling option, with De Villiers believing the pace of the wicket is more suited to the Test lasting the full distance. That would bring spinner Robin Peterson into the game, with middle-order batsman Dean Elgar helping out with his part-time left-arm spin.
“We’re prepared to play five days which normally brings in the spinner a lot more than what we saw at Newlands. The wicket might turn a bit on day four /five, so Robbie will play a big part in this game.” - The Star