JOHANNESBURG – For those who’ve bemoaned the absence of anything approaching intensity in the matches between South Africa and Bangladesh, perhaps a glance at the Sunfoil Series will sate that appetite.
The Lions and Titans have produced a gripping couple of days’ play, low on runs – certainly by comparison to the rest of this season’s tournament – but high on intensity, on the type of pitch the Bangladeshis thought they were playing on when they chose to bowl in the Test series.
There is pace and bounce – an old school-type of Wanderers pitch, according to Omphile Ramela, who’s spent more time than anyone batting on it in this match – making for a contest demanding everyone’s complete focus.
The standard of play during the two days has been very good too, from Ramela’s fine battling half-century on the first day to Lungi Ngidi’s prodigious new-ball spell in the Titans first innings.
Titans skipper Aiden Markram also produced an excellent knock of 85, balancing solid defensive technique and elegant, powerful strokeplay over the course of a four-hour stay at the crease.
There were elements of good fortune in that knock too – he was dropped on 12 at first slip by Stephen Cook on the first evening – and a couple of edges fell short of the slips.
But it was an innings that also demonstrated Markram’s strong mental aptitude – something that wasn’t needed against the lax Bangladeshis on the flat surfaces in Bloemfontein and Potchefstroom.
Hardus Viljoen, Aya Myoli, Wiaan Mulder and Craig Alexander offered a much sterner test for Markram than anything he’s encountered on his initial forays in the international arena, and playing on this livelier surface will stand him in good stead for later in the summer when the Proteas hope to prepare similar pitches for the Indians.
Markram and Shaun von Berg, who took advantage of some charitable tactics from the Lions to help himself to an unbeaten 63, ensured the Titans grabbed a 33-run first-innings lead as they ended on 213 in reply to the Lions’ 180.
Myoli was the Lions’ most successful bowler, claiming 4/82, but Wiaan Mulder was definitely the most disciplined.
His pre-lunch spell on Tuesday, in which he removed Henry Davids and Jonathan Vandiar in one over, was one of high quality – that included an eye-catching mini-battle with Markram.
The Lions lost skipper Stephen Cook before they’d erased the deficit to a lovely out-swinger from Migael Pretorius, and following a steady build-up of pressure after tea, Reeza Hendricks played a loose stroke, giving Alfred Mothoa his first wicket of the match.
Ramela dug in again, just as he did in the first innings, scoring 32 and copping another painful blow, this time to his knee.
He was dismissed by Ngidi, who though not as penetrative with the new ball on Tuesday as he was on the first morning, produced an excellent second spell in which he got one to bounce and leave the left-hander, with Von Berg hanging on to fine catch above his head at third slip.
Rassie van der Dussen (26 not out) and Nicky van den Bergh (9 not out) will resume on Wednesday morning, aiming to build on the Lions lead, which currently sits on 71 runs as the home team finished on 104/3.