Wearing pitch will favour SA’s strike bowlers
Some time today South Africa will dull the disappointment of last season’s campaign by winning the second test at Centurion and with it their series against New Zealand. Or it might happen tomorrow. But happen it will.
If that seems to be over-confidence in a team that won only one of their six tests last summer, consider that the Kiwis already need 122 more runs than any side have yet scored to win a test at Centurion.
That was the 251 England made in January 2000 after Hansie Cronje made a deal with the devil and a man with a leather jacket – not to mention a paper bag filled with dirty money – to force a positive result after three days had been lost to rain.
No such skulduggery seems likely to infect this match, in which SA were 105/6 at stumps on the third day yesterday to build their lead to 372.
Given a pitch that is showing signs of inconsistent bounce, and an attack that dismissed the visitors for 214 in the first innings, victory for the Proteas is significantly more probable than possible.
“Those cracks will widen as the game goes on. It’s probably going to get worse,” SA strike bowler Dale Steyn said.
Might New Zealand find themselves batting first thing this morning? “There are two days left in the game, so if we can bat until lunchtime, who knows,” Steyn said.
“T here ’s no point declaring overnight and leaving them a bit of a sniff.”
Steyn and Kagiso Rabada shared six wickets to keep SA on top before volunteer opener Quinton de Kock helped himself to his second half-century of the match to confirm the home side’s dominance.
De Kock, who had not opened the batting in any of his 13 previous test innings, offered to do so after Dean Elgar twisted an ankle while stepping over the boundary the day before the match.
Having scored 82 in the first innings, De Kock clipped 50 off 43 balls yesterday.
He announced his intentions early by collecting four boundaries – two of them off the outside edge of his bat – from the first four balls he faced.
But De Kock’s hustle and bustle was not matched by his teammates, and when he was felled trying to take evasive action from a Doug Bracewell bouncer – and sent a looping catch to gully instead – SA were 82/5.
Temba Bavuma’s patience for his unbeaten 25 off 69 balls helped stop the slide.
A similar approach from Kane Williamson kept New Zealand’s heads above water after they resumed on 38/3.
Williamson scored a defiant 77 but his only significant support came in stands of 60 with Henry Nicholls and 45 with Neil Wagner.
Nicholls spent 67 balls on his 36 and Wagner smashed his 31 off 30 deliveries.
Wagner, who peppered SA’s batsmen with short deliveries on the first two days, was consequently welcomed to the crease with a bouncer to the helmet from Rabada.
That was the first element of what became a barrage of threatening deliveries, but Wagner gave as good as he got – hitting four fours and smashing Steyn over long-on for six.
Wagner’s assault seemed to sting Steyn even after stumps.
“If he wanted to be more courageous and brave he would have been 30 off 90 [balls] and watched his captain get to a hundred, rather than 31 and walk off the pitch saying I’ve done my job,” Steyn said. “That’s not your job.”
But Steyn managed to backtrack enough to call Wagner “a brave cricketer, an all-heart player”.
Bracewell confirmed that the SA bowlers’ aggression levels had peaked when Wagner walked to the wicket.
“It got a bit heated and a few words were said,” Bracewell said.
Among those words might have been lessons on how Wagner, an Afrikaner who was born and raised in Pretoria and moved to New Zealand in 2008, should pronounce his surname.