TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
SA’S batting was as grey as the leaden skies that hovered over Kingsmead for most of the opening day of their test series against New Zealand on Friday.
New Zealand’s bowling wasn’t much better, but it was made to look sharper than it deserved to by three wickets falling to batting errors in the dying overs of the day’s play.
Indeed, the floodlights that were turned on for the duration shone brighter than events on the field itself.
Perhaps that was a consequence of the unfamiliar conditions the players had to come to terms with in the first ever winter test at Kingsmead.
Or it told us that these two teams are far closer to each other in terms of strength than when they last met.
But the 236 runs SA scored for the loss of eight wickets in the 77.4 overs bowled before bad light ended play will not spark a stampede at the gate – unless the point is to get out of the ground.
Not that the 2226 spectators who formed the crowd at its probable zenith, between lunch and tea, would have struggled to escape.
They did get some of what their money was worth in Hashim Amla’s 53 – only the second half-century he has scored in 17 test innings at what used to be his home ground – and Temba Bavuma’s 46.
Amla mixed leading with his edge with cracking strokeplay, his searing square drive off Tim Southee perhaps the best of his 10 boundaries.
Bavuma punched and counter-punched for almost two-and-a-half hours before being undone by a sweep to a sharply turning delivery from left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner, which crashed into his pads.
“It did play pretty much like a standard Kingsmead pitch, but 236/8 is not a good position for us to be in,” Amla said. “Quite a few of us got in and then we didn’t capitalise – we managed to get in some good batting spells but not for long enough.
“Kingsmead is one of more difficult wickets on which to score big runs but quite a few of us got out to dismissals that could have been avoided.”
New Zealand’s bowling seemed trapped in a doldrum of discipline with little thought given to trying to dominate.
Trent Boult took the fight to the batsmen in an unusually lengthy opening spell of eight overs in which he conceded as many runs and had Stephen Cook caught behind.
But neither Boult nor any of the other bowlers presented a consistent enough threat and New Zealand’s approach seemed to be to wait for the South Africans to make mistakes, which they did all too often.
Only when Quinton de Kock came to the crease in the fourth over after tea was there reason to sit up and take notice.
He top-edged a single to fine leg off the first ball he faced and had nailed Boult for boundaries through fine leg and long-on five deliveries later.
However, having smacked seven fours in his run-a-ball 33, De Kock chanced his arm once too many and scooped a drive off Santner to a tumbling Doug Bracewell at mid-off.
“Had he not got out we might have been in a very good position,” Amla said.
Then Bavuma and Vernon Philander followed De Kock back to the dressingroom to hand New Zealand the advantage going into a second day on which, according to the weather forecast, Durban’s leaden skies will melt into rain.
If SA’s bowlers get a crack at the Kiwis, they can expect more of the approach the visitors showed on Friday.
“We’ve got to do with the bat what we’ve done with the ball, and for long periods of time,” fast bowler Neil Wagner said.