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Proteas batsmen face uphill struggle to stay in touch with Black Caps

New Zealand’s players celebrate while Zubayr Hamza curses his misfortune after the ball from Mitchell Santner deflected off the batsman’s arm and leg onto his stumps
BAD LUCK: New Zealand’s players celebrate while Zubayr Hamza curses his misfortune after the ball from Mitchell Santner deflected off the batsman’s arm and leg onto his stumps

Despite trailing by 431 runs at the end of the second day of the opening Test against New Zealand, Proteas captain Neil Brand believes his team are not out of contention yet.

“I still feel that we can do something special here,” Brand said after Monday’s play.

He has to stay positive, as do his teammates, but the truth is the Proteas are in a Kimberley-sized hole at the Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui. 

Getting through 28 overs, as they had to do in the final session on Monday, was always going to be difficult, especially as New Zealand’s substantial first innings total of 511 meant Tim Southee would be able to set aggressive fields. 

The Black Caps bowlers, however, were smart with their lines in particular, targeting the stumps, something the South African seamers, with the exception of medium pacer Ruan de Swardt, did not do enough of when they bowled.

It left SA 80/4, with Brand and Zubayr Hamza a touch unfortunate to lose their wickets. 

SA could have afforded the loss of two batsmen in that session, but four leaves a staggering amount of work to do, even though batting on day three is forecast to be easier by the majority of local experts. 

The problem is SA will have to bat last on a pitch that Brand showed was beginning to assist the spin.

Though the majority of his six-wicket haul, which included that of top scorer Rachin Ravindra, who made 240, were the result of New Zealand’s aggressive play, one wicket showed the peril awaiting the Proteas.

Brand got one to spin out of the rough to bowl Mitchel Santner, New Zealand’s frontline left-arm spinner, who was later lucky to get the wicket of Hamza, but will play an increasingly prominent role in the remainder of the match. 

The Proteas have 16 wickets to play with and will have to display every iota of skill to keep a disciplined New Zealand attack at bay. 

“We are one partnership away from being back in the game,”  Brand said.

“We’ve played the extra batter and hopefully we can put that to good use.”

That selection of an extra batsman is at the expense of a frontline spinner, meaning Dane Piedt and Shaun von Berg are carrying drinks.

It left Brand having to carry a heavy workload with the ball — bowling 26 overs for his 6/119 — a toll that probably played a roll in his dismissal when he batted.

“It’s been a tough grind,” Brand said.

“But we didn’t expect anything less. We gave them a couple of chances which didn’t help.

“Nevertheless, it’s been enjoyable.

“Whenever you get down on yourself you look up at the crowd and it’s just amazing to be on a ground like this doing what you love.”

Besides Brand and Raynard van Tonder, there were good signs from the rest of the Proteas batsmen on Monday.

Ed Moore was typically assertive and Hamza played within himself. 

David Bedingham, aside from the opportunity he gave when pulling upward against Kyle Jamieson, a chance which was spilled by Matt Henry, produced more classical shotmaking.

There were signs of frustration, with New Zealand’s clever fielding positions cutting off a few boundary-bound drives.

Those are the kind of “small wins” the Proteas batsmen need to take if they are to stretch this game into a fifth day and “do something special” as their captain believes they can. — TimesLIVE