Following much hype and a comprehensive trouncing of the hosts in the T20 and ODI games, the Proteas marched to Dunedin expecting to crush the Kiwis in the Tests. Two days into the first Test and they’re fighting for the advantage. By PAUL BERKOWITZ.
The lead-up to this three-match Test series suggested a truly one-sided affair between the team that would be Number 1 in the world and the Test side that many feel is only there to make up the numbers. South African fans have known for a few weeks that a 3-0 series whitewash would take them to the top of the rankings. They’ve taken this statistical possibility and turned it into a quest for their birthright: Number 1 or Bust.
It made no difference to the rabid one-eyed fans (myself included) that New Zealand beat the Aussies in a thrillingly close Test only three months ago. In Australia. Without their stalwart Daniel Vettori. After the Proteas delivered some one-sided mauling in the T20 and ODI series you could almost taste the ridiculous ceremonial mace.
A real sports hack chooned me in his lilting Cape Town tone that the weather had a better chance of conspiring against our hopes and dreams. He expects at least one of the Tests to end without a clear result. That was probably the most sober assessment of the lot. But nobody expected the Kiwi quicks to rip out the throat of our batting attack.
After a rain-delayed start on the first day, the Proteas made it to tea with the score at 86/1. Captain Smith had even posted a half-century, frustrating all the Biff-detractors (myself included). Straight after the scones and Earl Grey, however, Chris Martin dismissed Smith. Two overs later he took out Kallis and De Villiers with successive balls.
Amla and Rudolph did their best to stitch the innings back together, and Philander pitched in with a cameo of 22 runs, but the damage was done. South Africa were shot out for 238 inside of 70 overs. What is worrying is that the pitch was not a bowlers’ paradise, but the application of the bowlers (particularly Martin) bore dividends. The South African top order perished to some beautiful bowling.
In contrast, although the Protea quicks maintained the pressure and Philander in particular bowled an unblemished spell on the second day, many of the Black Cap wickets that fell were to rash shots, rather than unplayable balls. After some good bowling accounted for the Kiwi openers, McCullum and Taylor put together a 65-run partnership that looked to take the game further away from the South Africans. Vettori then dug in and accumulated some runs before giving away his wicket to a nothing shot.
At the end of the second day the hosts were 243/9 – just five runs ahead with one tail-ender wicket to fall. The game is delicately in the balance and will be decided by which side does better in their second innings. Maybe it’s better that the Proteas and their dreamy fans get the wake-up call early in the series and show their opponents a bit more respect. DM
Photo: New Zealand's Daniel Vettori hits a shot watched by South Africa's Mark Boucher during their first international cricket test match of the series in Dunedin, March 8, 2012 REUTERS/Anthony Phelps