TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
SA played before and after cricket on the second day of the first test against England at Kingsmead on Sunday.
For the first two hours, they were again the team that had bestrode the test scene before their series in India – feisty and fiery. For much of the next six hours, they were the sorry lot who limped home from the sub-continent – uncertain of what to do and how to do it.
That the bowlers took charge of those first two hours to take England’s remaining six wickets for 124 runs and the batsmen were responsible for the rest – in which SA crashed to 113/4 – tells its own story of where Hashim Amla’s men are going wrong.
And it is the bowlers who will have to help the remaining batsmen dig them out of the ditch when SA resume on Monday on 137/4, or still 166 runs behind.
Precarious though the home side’s position is, it would have been much more so without the contributions of Morne Morkel and Dean Elgar.
Morkel’s haul of 4/76 showed that his surge into the spotlight in India in the absence of the then injured Dale Steyn was no fluke.
He bowled with pace and purpose to dismiss Nick Compton, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes – all except the latter the joint owners of five test centuries – with bounce and persistence.
“A lot of the time I will put pressure on myself, especially coming back from the subcontinent,” Morkel said. “You almost create the expectance of bouncy, quicker wickets, and you can put yourself under pressure.
“(On Saturday) I toiled hard and went wicketless, and I got some abuse on the way back to the hotel. But if you’re willing to put in the hard yards and put the ball in the right area consistently, you can get wickets. It’s nice to do it for the team, working into the wind to create some sort of pressure.”
Elgar, SA’s junkyard dog of an opening batsman, scrapped his way to an unbeaten 67; an innings that holds great import on Monday.
The left-hander watched Stiaan van Zyl, Amla and Faf du Plessis dismissed for single-figure scores and then hung tough with AB de Villiers in a stand of 86.
De Villiers is, as Morkel described him, “the rock of our batting line-up at the moment” – particularly with Amla having now gone 10 innings without scoring a half-century.
“There is a lot of pressure on (De Villiers),” Morkel said. “But he’s seen that movie before – he knows how to play it and he’s capable of handling that kind of thing. Every dressingroom would love to have him.”
Indeed, they would. Which only added to the alarm of a newspaper report on Sunday that claimed De Villiers was considering retirement from test cricket.
“He’s still very keen to play for SA and to break records,” Morkel said. “I think that’s just to sell some papers.”
SA enjoyed some luck on Sunday with Elgar surviving a yell for lbw when he was 56. Had England sent Aleem Dar’s not out decision Ben Stokes would have a wicket and SA would have been 117/5.
“We thought Elgar had hit the ball, that’s why we didn’t call for the review,” Stuart Broad said.
With Elgar is Temba Bavuma, who showed admirable patience in using 15 balls to get off the mark. He will take guard again on Monday on 10.
JP Duminy is padded up and waiting to improve on the form he showed in India, and then SA will ask their bowlers to go out and bat for their team’s lives.
Team management’s decision to co-opt Lance Klusener to galvanise the lower order seemed odd when it was announced last week. Now it seems prescient.
It’s a long way to back to the top in this match for SA from here. As Broad said, “This morning is a big first hour.”
But Morkel had, in his own words, seen this movie before: “I can sit here and say all the right things, but it’s a matter of fronting up.”