South Africa squandered their advantage of winning the toss by gifting England wickets on day one at the Wanderers; suddenly they are looking like the 2015 team again. With a bowling attack that shares just 77 caps between them – 70 belonging to one player – some hard graft awaits. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
If you needed further evidence that AB de Villiers absolutely despises keeping wicket, you only needed to observe his decision to bat first under cloudy skies at the Wanderers after winning the toss on day one. Or so the joke goes anyway. De Villiers would have been carted off to do duty behind the stumps while Dane Vilas was flown in on the 08:40 flight out of Port Elizabeth to replace Quinton de Kock, who sprained his knee at home on the eve of the third Test.
De Kock did not think much of it and on Thursday morning realised he probably wasn’t up for squatting behind three wooden pegs for two days. Getting injured in unusual ways has been part and parcel of De Kock’s career. In 2014, he injured his ankle while warming up for South Africa, and nearly missed the 2015 World Cup. This time, apparently, he was walking his dog and slipped and although the injury does not seem to be serious at this point, it has ruled him out of action for this must-win Test.
Fortunately, Vilas made it to Johannesburg well in time for South Africa’s batting collapse and joined in the fun. After winning the toss and choosing to bat first, South Africa would have ended the day as the unhappier of the two teams. England, although bowling tightly at times, were hardly bowling out of their skin. They barely managed to get any swing, and often did not force South Africa’s batsmen to play. Fortunately for the visitors, South Africa’s batsmen chose to play. And boy, what lunacy did they choose! The Proteas managed to clobber together just one 50-run stand in their entire innings, and the bulk of their wickets were hospitable gifts. Two of the top three were dismissed in the 40s
Stiaan van Zyl’s struggles with opening the batting remains a stumbling block: he just does not seem to be able to get out of the 20s, something which seems now psychological rather than technical. Dean Elgar has been getting out in the 40s since his 100 in Durban, and has struggled moving his feet. Hashim Amla played a few loose shots before being dismissed by a snorter from Steven Finn. And then there was AB de Villiers.
The prodigal son, leading South Africa in a Test for the first time, tried to lead from the front with his usual aggression, but it led to his demise instead. At 127-3, the last thing South Africa needed was for their their captain to dig in and lead from the front. Instead, he gloved a leg side bouncer that was just out of reach through to Jonny Bairstow, who took his fourth catch of the day. It was soft and unnecessary, especially for a player of De Villiers’ calibre, and one that the team will look up to.
The collapse continued, with Faf du Plessis picking out the fielder at deep square leg with precision and staring at the pitch as if it was to blame. Temba Bavuma was run out needlessly, and Vilas was clearly still recovering from his early morning boarding call.
But as the sun peeped out from behind the clouds and shadows bathed the Wanderers for the first time on the day, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada combined to give South Africa just a smattering of positive batting. They ended the day on an unbeaten partnership of 42, edging them closer to that magical 300-run mark. They left like openers and drove like them. Not even the new ball could deter the pair from showing the top order how it was supposed to be done. With cloudy and humid conditions expected again first thing on Friday morning, the survival of this pair and a few slogs from Hardus Viljoen will go a long way in having a total to bowl at. That is, of course, if the bowlers haven’t exhausted themselves through batting.
If South Africa are searching for solace, though, they can find it in the fact that on three occasions in the last nine Tests a team has failed to pass 300 in the first innings here and ultimately won, but the Wanderers groundsman reckons par score here is 350, and South Africa are a still long way off that target. Overall, though, this is shaping up to be an intriguing Test.
But the titanic battle playing out in front of the sparse crowd had been tainted somewhat. Netwerk24 broke the news that Gulam Bodi was the man who had a legal case pending against him. Cricket South Africa later confirmed that he had been charged with contriving to fix, or otherwise improperly influence aspects of the 2015 RAM SLAM T20 Challenge Series; he is yet to be formally charged in court, which would turn this into a criminal case. The good news is that CSA have actually done a very good job to uncover this whole thing as spot-fixing, as is understood to have happened in this case, is quite often undetectable. The bad news is that, if the rabbit hole goes as deep as is suspected, it could tarnish the reputation of South Africa’s domestic T20 tournament, one which they had been working desperately hard to bring up to scratch with competitions the world over. It’s likely to be a long and complicated process, and what comes out of it will break the hearts of those in love with the gentleman’s game. DM
Scorecard summary: South Africa won the toss and chose to bat first
South Africa 1st innings 267-7: Dean Elgar 46 (122), Hashim Amla 40 (123); Steven Finn 18-4-50-2, Ben Stokes 18-1-53-2