Honours even after day one between the Proteas and England
Proteas / 16 January 2020, 7:30pm / Zaahier Adams in Port Elizabeth
For all the talk about cloud cover and wind coming over the scoreboard to offer swing to the seam bowlers in the build-up to this third Test, it was only glorious sunshine and a cloudless sky that greeted the players at the country’s oldest Test venue.
This all resulted in a brand of cricket that would not have been out of place when these two teams first met back here in 1889. This was Test cricket from a bygone era on a flat and slow surface that did nothing to excite either the batsmen or bowlers.
In the first session 61 runs were scored from 27 overs without any English wicket to fall, in the second a mere 56 from 31 for the loss of two wickets, before everyone was awaken from their slumber with 107 runs in a further 32 overs during the final session with another two wickets falling.
Administrators are always concerned about the longevity of Test cricket. If the product on offer has the power to keep the digital age entertained. Last week at Newlands in the New Year Test it certainly did.
But that was on a surface that allowed for attractive and entertaining cricket. Here at St George’s Park it is more a battle of attrition to see who will surrender first.
England’s openers Zak Crawley (44) and Dom Sibley (36) ensured it would not be them in the morning session first by becoming the first English opening pair to survive until lunch in nine years. That is quite a significant achievement, even if they were assisted by the home team’s rather bizarre decision to open the bowling with a soon-to-be retired Vernon Philander (0/15) and Test debutant Dane Paterson (0/46) instead of the world’s fourth best fast bowler Kagiso Rabada.
“A lot of questions get asked why we don’t make the batsmen play enough. So, we thought about it and thought that on this surface we needed to make the new ball count. ‘KG’ is a wonderful bowler with the new ball, but management just thought we would go with Paterson who bowls a fuller length and makes the batsmen play more,” explained Proteas bowling coach Charl Langeveldt.
While the rationale behind the decision to open with Philander and Paterson can be understood, the fact of the matter is that Rabada is South Africa’s most threatening fast bowler. And that he has to be given the ball at every opportunity, particularly when he is snorting fire like was during the final session.
Much like that famed Test against Australia here two years ago when Rabada was breathing fire, the 24-year-old fast bowler came steaming in from the Park Drive End late in the afternoon. England’s premier batsmen Joe Root and Ben Stokes were at the crease and Rabada knew he needed to deliver something special to get rid of at least one of them.
He duly did to send England captain Root’s off-stump cartling, which set off a manic celebration that usually gets Rabada into trouble. Fortunately on this occasion the fast bowler had his teammates Rassie van der Dussen and Pieter Malan embrace him before any damage could be done.
“KG’s that type of person. He is always looking for a scrap. It gets him motivated. It gets him fired up. I always say KG control your aggression. But we do need also our need our big fast bowler to be aggressive,” Langeveldt said.
“I think its hard work on this wicket. We are trying to get batsmen out LBW or bowled. And it worked. Fair play to the celebration.”
Overall the contest remains very much in the balance, but the signs are ominous that England could take the game away from the Proteas on the second morning if they don’t find get early success.
Stokes (38*) and Ollie Pope (39*) have already put on 76 (1/55) for the fifth wicket. Both are not likely to let the South African bowlers dictate proceedings like left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj did during his unbroken 30-over spell yesterday.
They will look to be positive – even attacking – and perhaps for the sake of this Test and the format in particular, it may just be what is required.