PORT ELIZABETH – The jury may still be out on the pink ball and Test cricket under lights, but one thing for certain is that Zimbabwe are not deserving of their current Test status.
Even with the Test reduced to four days for the first time since 1973 in the hope that it would bring the world’s second ranked team and 10th side closer together, the gap between the teams were still as wide as the Beitbridge border post.
South Africa’s northern neighbours could only muster a sum total of 72.4 overs at the crease in both their innings. Such was the pace of their capitulation that the lights were not even turned on the second evening with the Test lasting just 907 balls.
The Proteas required just 1 hour and 12 minutes to claim the visitors’ six remaining first innings wickets which allowed AB de Villiers to enforce the follow-on with 241 runs still in the bank. That proved more than sufficient, allowing the Proteas to put their feet up inCape Town for a couple more days before the much-awaited showdown against India at Newlands on January 5.
Graeme Cremer’s side showed a hint of their ability at the start of the second innings, despite opener Hamilton Masikadza being forced to retire hurt after being hit on the elbow by Morne Morkel, who had earlier claimed his first “five-for” in five years. Chamu Chibhabha and Craig Ervine applied themselves diligently, with both batsmen content to leave the ball outside the off stump.
The pair moved the score to 54 without loss before Chibhabha followed a seaming delivery from Kagiso Rabada through to De Villiers behind the stumps. Chibhabha’s dismissal, though, did not trigger the expected collapse with Zimbabwe moving to 75 before Brendon Taylor was bizarrely caught attempting a reverse-sweep by a diving Hashim Amla off left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.
However, it was Taylor’s departure that set off the alarm in the Zimbabwe dressing room with the next eight wickets falling for just 46 runs.
Unlike in the first innings when it was the seaming ball under lights that undid Zimbabwe, it was now the turning ball in the glorious daylight delivered by Maharaj that proved too hot to handle. The Dolphins star has been a revelation for the Proteas in 2017, especially showcasing his ability to gain success in varying conditions – and now seemingly regardless of the colour of the ball too.
It was only 12 months ago when Maharaj was dropped for South Africa’s maiden pink ball Test in Adelaide when chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi was preferred. But like Proteas captain Faf du Plessis alluded to before the match that Maharaj can now bowl on “grass, glass or anything”, the 28-year-old is certainly fast developing into a trumpcard for the national team. It was his third “five-for” of the year that catapulted him to 48 Test wickets - the most by a South African spinner in a calendar year.
Young all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo has also left the national selectors in a quandary ahead of the India series. It is expected that a place needs to be found for the returning Du Plessis, but with Phehlukwayo hitting his lengths with impeccable accuracy yesterday to pick up three wickets for virtually nothing does leave Linda Zondi and Co. with a few tough decisions to make over the course of next week.
“I think our batters toiled very well on a wicket that seamed around the entire innings. But from a bowling point of view we wanted them to follow-on, so the bowlers could get some overs under the belt. We got 70-odd overs in, and some of the guys got some wickets that you can’t buy in the nets. All in all a pretty good outing for us to get out there and work hard before the India series, but I was pretty happy with the two days,” De Villiers said.