TELFORD VICE at the Basin Reserve
THE first hour of the second test between New Zealand and South Africa at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Thursday would have defined other matches.
And not only because it brought the wicket of Kane Williamson, who had been billed as New Zealand’s only chance of staying in the game in the absence of the injured Trent Boult and Ross Taylor.
Or, as the back page headline in the Dominion Post had it: “No Boult, no Taylor – what chance”.
By the end of that first hour, not only was Williamson out; so were Tom Latham and Neil Broom, whose test debut lasted four balls.
With only 21 runs on the board, plans were being made for Sunday, the scheduled third day, among some of those whose diaries had committed them to the cricket for the duration: Te Papa Tongarewa – the Museum of New Zealand – or a trip to wine country?
By stumps all such thoughts were either mothballed or looked like drunken ramblings.
New Zealand, who slipped even further to 101/5, were held steady by the industrious, unflashy Henry Nicholls, who scored his maiden test century in his 19th innings.
They recovered to 217/5 before losing their remaining wickets for 51 runs – four of them to the part-time off-spin of JP Duminy – and being dismissed for 268.
By stumps, South Africa had lurched to 24/2 in seven overs.
Stephen Cook looked a little less creaky than he did in the first test in Dunedin, where he scored three and nought, before pushing tentatively at Tim Southee and being taken at second slip with another unsatisfying three to his name.
Five balls later Dean Elgar, who was carried to Wellington on the wings of the 140 and 89 he made in Dunedin, drove down the wrong line to Colin de Grandhomme and was also caught at second slip for nine.
Nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada faced eight balls for his eight not out, and Hashim Amla had yet to score.
Nicholls, who had walked to the wicket with the scoreboard glowering that ugly 21/3, got the repairs going by helping Jeet Raval add 52.
Another 116 more or less flowed for the sixth wicket for Nicholls and BJ Watling, making South Africa’s earlier dominance seem a myth.
The truth was the pitch quickly matured out of its adolescence, and there are many more runs left in it before the will bowlers get another look in once the surface reaches its dotage.
But, while the greenish strip’s wild youth lasted, bowling on it was about as much fun as batting was not.
Morne Morkel would have had Tom Latham trapped in front for four in the fifth over with a delivery that seamed back into the left-hander and would have hit the top of off stump.
Thing is, after a team consultation and Morkel kicking at the ground as he walked back to his mark, Faf du Plessis opted not to refer Kumar Dharmasena’s on-field decision.
It mattered little – in his next over Morkel produced an away swinger with added bounce that took Latham’s edge and was sharply caught by Elgar at third slip.
Rabada smuggled a delivery past Williamson’s front pad and his bat, and when it crashed into the back leg not even the partial failure of the electronic umpiring system – Hawkeye was, apparently, tracking a clod of flying mud instead of the ball – could save New Zealand’s captain from being given out leg-before.
When Broom was wonderfully well caught, one-handed and just off the turf, by Quinton de Kock’s Superman dive, Rabada had taken two wickets for no runs with his first 10 deliveries.
The subsequent mending of the innings, sturdy and impressive though it was, was undone by Duminy and his career-best haul of 4/47, which had more than a touch of the bizarre about it.
Duminy induced Nicholls to york himself, had De Grandhomme caught by Amla at slip after the ball had deflected off De Kock’s gloves – Amla, who was moving in the other direction, did well to hang on – and had Watling taken behind off an edge that would have bounced on the ground had it not hit the back of the flap of the kneeling batsman’s back pad.
But Duminy found ways to take wickets on a pitch that had stopped giving them to South Africa’s frontline bowlers in more orthodox fashion.
And where there’s a way, there has to have been a will.