A crazy toss and three team changes, which included a Test debut for Quinton de Kock, all made for an entertaining day of Test cricket. South Africa managed to win a session for just the second time this series and although Australia will still be the happier of the teams, at least it’s not all doom and gloom for the hosts this time around. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
If South Africa translated their start to the morning of the second Test against Australia to an on-field performance, things might have looked almost as glum as at Centurion by the stumps. South Africa made it to 214-5 on a slow track where it was all about patience and where Hurricane Mitchell at times looked like nothing more than a mild breeze.
Contributions from Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers revitalised the wilting Proteas, but the day was far from a smooth ride. Half-centuries from all three ensured the South Africans ended the first day in a relatively steady position. Although Australia will still be the far happier of the two teams, South Africa showed that they had not suddenly curled up and died and replaced the world’s number one Test team with a dummy.
From complete chaos to steady calm
The morning started with Graeme Smith being late for the toss because of a possible ailment to Vernon Philander. After consultation with Philander, Smith made a scribble on the team sheet and off he went to the toss. Whose name was down and whose wasn’t will remain a mystery, but it all looked profoundly confusing on the first morning of the Test. Smith won the toss and chose to bat, unsurprisingly, perhaps, considering the Centurion result.
The toss result followed the announcement of three changes. Elgar came in for an ill Alviro Petersen, Wayne Parnell replaced a concussed Ryan McLaren and Quinton de Kock came in to replace the innocuous Robin Peterson. It all looked very Englandesque with sweeping changes and blooding youngsters, but for the time being, South Africa managed to avoid mimicking the English on the field.
Out of contract, but not out of confidence
Dean Elgar and Faf Du Plessis turned sighs of frustration into sighs of relief, though, combing for a 112-run partnership to steady the innings and ensure that the real South Africa at least managed to stumble to standing on one leg. Elgar, who was cut from the CSA central contract list earlier in the week, slotted into his natural position and looked a more mature, settled and calm player than the one who bagged a pair on debut against Australia nearly two years ago.
It took him 19 edgy deliveries to finally get off the mark and between the body blows, delicate chips and nicks, Elgar looked confident. For 37.4 overs, Elgar and Du Plessis’ tandem see-sawed through a slow pitch but helped change the mood from chaos to calm. Elgar found out that he would get a chance to play at the same time he found out he was out of contract, and although he said he didn’t have anything to prove, he has shown that there might very well be another opening option once patience with Alviro Petersen runs out.
How good is AB de Villiers?
This question is perhaps akin to “how long is a piece of string”? But AB de Villiers continues to prove time and time again that he is arguably the best batsman in the world. His ability to adjust to different situations is superb. South Africa weren’t in any real trouble when he walked out and De Villiers shifted from attacker to anchor as South Africa plodded along on a low and slow track. He plodded his way to an unbeaten 50 at the close of play. He’s now reached 50 at least once in innings of his last 12 Tests and averages 81.00 in those games. De Villiers has a near supernatural ability to read the game and adapt his approach accordingly. He is a once-in-a-lifetime player for South Africa whose brilliance knows no bounds.
A little bit of luck goes a long way
Luck is a funny thing. Whether you believe in it or not, there are instance where circumstances combine and things just go your way. You wouldn’t have guessed it at the start of the morning, but South Africa had a fair bit of luck on Thursday. Whether it was a streaky four edging down to third man, catches dropping just that little bit short or balls whizzing past the stump with only a hair between, the Proteas channelled some good fortune which evaded them in the previous Test. It’s not going to win them a match, but when you feel like the whole world is against you and your back is against the wall, it’s sometimes the little things which give you a new perspective.
The recklessness of youth
De Kock, although tentative and off the mark with a four, showed that although youth can be enticing, it can also be reckless. Despite looking as settled as a 21-year old can on Test debut, the left-hander thought the best approach for relieving pressure would be to dance down the track and attack Steven Smith with a loose and immature shot. That De Kock is talented, exciting and will go on to be become a great player there is no doubt, but carelessness in his approach will need time to grow. He is not the first and won’t be the last to make a dodgy decision on debut and he might very well go on to surprise people in his second innings in Test cricket. For now, though, the jury is out and the young man who can one day have the world at his feet is under the microscope.
South Africa 214 for 5
Dean Elgar 83 (193), Faf du Plessis 55 (126); Nathan Lyon 23-6-47-2, Ryan Harris 18-5-36-1 DM
Photo: South Africa’s Dean Elgar plays a shot during the first day of the second cricket test match against Australia in Port Elizabeth February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Rogan Ward
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer