PIETERMARITZBURG – If the Dolphins know one thing, it is how to dig in against the Titans, regardless of what names appear on the opposition sheet.
By day’s end – or at least when the sun decided it had done enough work for the day – the visitors had reached 205/2 in 73.3 overs, before the City Oval got too gloomy for even the slow bowlers to operate.
It marked the end of a dogged fightback by the hosts. At lunchtime, with the Proteas Test opening pair sitting pretty on 117 without loss, there was cause for considerable concern in the home sheds.
Visiting skipper Aiden Markram was hitting the ball as sweetly as he has all season, and the impenetrable wall that is Dean Elgar was looking even more daunting than ever.
A month ago, the Dolphins had suffered at the hands of the duo, and KZN Inland paceman Kerwin Mungroo must have wondered what he had done to earn a franchise debut against the nation’s king pair.
The youngster will learn quickly that, at the highest level, the short ball is a surprise rather than a staple. He toiled hard, and will be a better bowler for his chastening experience upfront.
The Dolphins were guilty of handing out too many gifts in the opening session, especially to a duo of such pedigree.
The Titans sped to 50, rattling along at nearly five an over. Markram, who looks to have been emboldened by early life in the international lane, drove imperiously, studding the fence off the front and back foot.
The Dolphins did have a sniff, though, as Elgar danced down the track and skied Prenelan Subrayen to long-on, but Mthokozisi Shezi made a hash of the chance.
You dare not drop Elgar – not in this form – and the Proteas’ stand-out batsman of 2017 dropped anchor and settled in for the day.
Markram, by now meeting the ball on the rise and standing tall, looked set fair for another mighty feast at the crease.
He pulled with disdain, and was just getting into the slow bowling when smart work by Morné van Wyk saw a fine tickle down leg caught off Senuran Muthusamy for a promising 67.
The Dolphins breathed a sigh of relief, and then went about throttling the obdurate Elgar and new man Bafana Mahlangu in the middle session.
The discipline that is a cornerstone of their bowling plans returned, and they strung together a spell of 34 dot balls at one point.
Mahlangu did well to weather the mini storm, and he started unfurling some attacking strokes to give the run rate a pulse once more.
But he too was winkled out by Muthusamy, who continues to improve and impress with every showing.
His spell on the first day realised 2/31 in 19 overs as he kept it simple and honed in on off-stump.
Mahlangu, increasingly eager to go on the offensive, was foxed by some extra flight, and gave Muthusamy the simplest of return catches.
Elgar, meanwhile, continued to do what he has done all year, digging in and marching towards yet another knock of distinction.
As the afternoon wore on, he found another gear, and looked to change the spinners’ lengths by pulling out the reverse-sweep and driving as surely as he has all year against the red ball.
Already perched on 88 not out, the Dolphins must know that the doughty southpaw must go early on day two if the Titans are to be kept within touching distance.
Titans 205/2 off 73.3 overs (Dean Elgar 88 not out, Aiden Markram 67; Senuran Muthusamy 2/31)