TELFORD VICE, Kingsmead
RARELY have less than two hours of cricket meant as much as they did at Kingsmead on Saturday, where all but 132 deliveries of the second day’s play in the first test between South Africa and New Zealand were lost to miserable weather.
But the prize, for South Africans at least, was worth that disappointment: Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander are back from the injuries that kept them out of six of the eight tests South Africa played – mostly poorly – last season.
Steyn sent down six sniping overs of near perfection, if not express pace, that yielded only two scoring shots and claimed the wickets of Tom Latham and Martin Guptill.
Over the hill at 33? Like bloody hell.
Philander was only a mite more hittable in his half-dozen overs and seemed able to dart the ball around corners, and he had a catch dropped.
Could a return to his halcyon days, when he took 51 wickets in his first seven tests, be possible?
New Zealand, who took 10 overs to claim the two wickets they needed to dismiss South Africa for 263, were 15/2 after all that.
Lesser teams might hope that a forecast for up to 50 millimetres of rain last night proved more accurate than not, but the Kiwis have the pluck to fight back from here.
Even so, having heard for days now that South Africa were no longer the force they encountered in January 2013, when Steyn and Philander took half of the 40 wickets on offer in the series, New Zealand would have thought they were victims of a ruse.
Someone might have told them conditions at Kingsmead yesterday were bespoke for seam and swing.
The air was as damp as dragon’s breath and the pitch buzzed with life.
As one joker had it: “That’s why South Africa played so many bad shots (on Friday) – they wanted to bowl (on Saturday).”
But bowling coach Charl Langeveldt proffered a more serious theory: “When you put five out of six balls in the right place you create pressure.”
The cracks began to show in the fourth over of New Zealand’s reply when Latham, fresh from scoring two centuries in three innings in Bulawayo, edged Philander to second slip – where Dean Elgar flubbed a catch that should have been taken and punched the ground hard in frustration.
Elgar’s knuckles might still have been throbbing three overs later, when Latham had a hearty go at Steyn and Hashim Amla, at first slip, reached above his head to grab and hold on.
In Steyn’s next over, Martin Guptill played outside an inswinger that nailed him lbw.
When bad light forced lunch five minutes early, Kagiso Rabada was standing at the top of his run. Things can only get better.