TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth
ONLY one century was scored and just two five-wicket-hauls taken, but St George’s Park delivered another absorbing contest into the annals of South African cricket over the past five days.
Four days and 70 minutes, actually. That’s how long it took the home side to beat Sri Lanka by 206 runs in the first test.
Victory was clinched on Friday, leaving the Lankans to wonder how they are going to turn things around in time to put up a better performance when the series resumes in Cape Town on Monday.
Newlands, too, has been given something to think about.
“It was an excellent test wicket,” Stephen Cook, the scorer of that lone century, a sturdy 117, said of a St George’s Park pitch that did not deteriorate as much as usual, and therefore offered little in the way of turn or reverse swing but was a solid surface for batting.
“It nipped about on the first two days and it got good to bat on and started taking spin towards the end,” Cook said.
What did he expect for the second test?
“It’s a fine line in Cape Town. It can either do plenty – we’ve seen a few teams get bowled out for under a hundred – or it can go the other way and you can get 500 or 600.
“It’s a knife-edge in terms of the wicket.
“Hopefully, with our balanced attack and the way we’ve been batting, we can adapt to the situations as they arise. We know their strengths, particularly their spin bowling.
“So I wouldn’t imagine it will turn too much.”
South Africa dealt with the conditions as adpetly as they did with their opponents, who will take their only solace from the facts that they dismissed the home side for fewer than 300 – 286 – in the first innings and then registered the highest fourth innings total yet seen at the country’s oldest test ground: 281.
But those issues are on the periphery of the more important truth that South Africa were dominant in all departments.
“We did everything right,” Faf du Plessis said. “Wining the toss on a greentop you could easily bowl first.
“But we thought it would quicken up on day two, which it did.
“So to get a hundred-run partnership with the openers (Cook and Dean Elgar) was amazing. It set the tone for us for the test.
“We bowled really well, and then in the second innings when the wicket was better the batting unit laid their authority down.
“It was a great opportunity for us as a batting unit to dominate and we did. We put them under pressure and they were not in the game.”
South Africa declared on 406/6 in their second innings and reduced the visitors, who chased a target of 488, to 240/5 at stumps on Thursday.
“The bowling was excellent (on Thursday),” Du Plessis said. “It was a day of not many rewards but every single bowler did everything right.
“I was extremely impressed with the way the guys bowled and (on Friday) we got the rewards.”
Angelo Mathews loomed as Sri Lanka’s last hope of prolonging the inevitable when play resumed on Friday.
But he added just a single to his overnight score of 58 before he was trapped in front by Kyle Abbott with the 14th ball of the day.
Abbott struck again in the same way four overs later to remove Dhananjaya de Silva for 22.
Four balls after that Vernon Philander dived to take a fine return catch that ended Rangana Herath’s innings.
Dushmantha Chameera went next, left with nothing to do but edge a short, rising delivery from Kagiso Rabada to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
Keshav Maharaj ended the match by cleanbowling Nuwan Pradeep.
Rabada and Maharaj shared six wickets, a change of emphasis compared to a first innings in which Philander loomed large with his haul of 5/45.
South Africa will struggle to play a better match, and the likelihood is that they won’t have to to wrap up the series at Newlands.
But they will have braved a new frontier if they play as well as they can more often, and not just well enough to win.