Absence of pace means Proteas can ill-afford to miss chances against New Zealand
Players and management of the short-handed Proteas squad in New Zealand have been particularly open about how they drew inspiration from the deeds of the West Indies in Australia recently.
Led by Shamar Joseph, that severely depleted West Indies team pulled off a shock result in Brisbane, which shook up Test cricket and made South Africa believe they were capable of something similar against the Black Caps.
For two sessions on the first day, they more than held their own. After winning the toss, they had the home team two wickets down in the first session, including one with his first ball for Tshepo Moreki. “I was nervous this morning. It was good to get off to a flying start,” Moreki said understatedly.
The Proteas restricted New Zealand’s scoring in the afternoon, and should have dismissed Kane Williamson. In the evening, however, understandably unable to maintain the same physical intensity, they wilted somewhat in the heat — having missed another chance, this time to dismiss Rachin Ravindra — allowing the hosts to assume control of the first Test at Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui.
New Zealand were 258/2 at the close.
“It takes 20 wickets to win a Test match,” the old mantra goes. In Joseph, through his searing pace, which still touched the high 140km/h mark even in the 11th over of that already legendary spell at the Gabba, the West Indies had a bowler capable of causing opposing batters discomfort.
The South African team in New Zealand don’t have that. Moreki, who is making his debut, only hits the speed gun at 128km/h. Duanne Olivier, who through tinkering with his technique last winter said he’d found a few kilometres of extra pace, didn’t show any of it on Sunday.
He nudged the high 120s and occasionally 130km/h and it was the same for Dane Paterson, who claimed the only other wicket the Proteas took on the first day.
Ruan de Swardt bowled with great discipline, but didn’t generate anything above 125km/h. In the modern game, that is not going to threaten opposing batters and certainly not one of Williamson’s class.
He already looks like he has all the time in the world when facing the game’s fastest quicks, so even though, through two sessions at least the Proteas bowlers had control, the Kiwis batted with little fear.
The chances they did offer, which the Proteas didn’t grab, were the result of Williamson and Ravindra looking to dominate. Given the absence of high pace in their attack, those kinds of opportunities are ones the South Africans can ill-afford to let slip through their grasp.
“We are going to create opportunities through building pressure, trying to get the run rate down and then create a chance that way,” said Moreki.
“Ruan de Swardt did that nicely earlier in the day, he created the pressure and the chances came. I think it will be that — playing old-fashioned, old school Test cricket.”
South Africa are playing the match without a front-line spinner, a surprising choice given that Dane Piedt, specifically called back from the US by Shukri Conrad for this tour, was also the Proteas’ top wicket-taker in that West Indies A series last year.
Conrad and the players have repeatedly referred back to that series as the one where strong bonds were created between the players — who by that stage already knew they were going on this tour because of the absence of the nationally-contracted players to the SA20 — and the gameplans that were hatched.
Moreki explained how the extra grass covering at Bay Oval had persuaded the brains trust to eschew a spin option and also influenced Brand’s decision to bowl after winning the toss. New Zealand pitches can be deceptive like that and instead of a seaming, quick surface, the teams played on one that was slow, with the only movement apparent with the new ball.
It therefore demands strong discipline and awareness to take the opportunities when they occur, because the composition of this Proteas attack means chances will be few.
“We aren't going to be too hard on anybody in the team, we’ll come again and do it all over again,” Moreki said.
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