Match Report: 1st Test: Day 1: South Africa Vs New Zealand at Durban, August 19-23, 2016
Brief Scores :- South Africa 236 for 8 (Amla 53, Wagner 3-47) v New Zealand
The first day of Test cricket in August at Kingsmead felt like a play. There was the roguish charmer, Trent Boult, making the new ball weave shapes the batsman couldn’t fathom. There was the graceful warrior, Hashim Amla, finding the boundary with the softest of touches. There was the man who defies pain, Neil Wagner, summoning bouncers late in the day. There was guts from Temba Bavuma. And finally there was Mitchell Santner, the sneaky saboteur who ensured the curtains came down with New Zealand smiling.
South Africa, having opted to bat, lurched from 102 for 2 to 160 for 5 and were finally holding on at 236 for 8 at stumps, with Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn at the crease.
There was a distinct narrative in each session of play. The first was for the purists, and for those moved by drama, for Boult was slaying an old demon. Ever since a back injury in June 2015, he had looked a paler force. His average bobbed over 36, he leaked three runs an over, and some were worried he had lost his inswing. Considering a stress fracture to his back had threatened his career before it even began – he was set to make his Test debut as a 19-year-old in Australia in 2009, instead he spent two years out of the game – Boult running in and hunting for the top of off stump at 140 kph was a pleasing sight. His first spell of eight overs included three maidens, plenty of jaffas, and the wicket of opener Stephen Cook.
In walked Amla. The ball cringed at the sight of him and hid beyond the boundary every chance it could. He looked in such ominous touch that his batting average of 18.62 at Kingsmead, his home ground, seemed like a computer error. He had contributed 40 of the 53 runs South Africa accumulated in the ten overs leading to lunch, favouring the cover drive. Six of his ten fours came in that region as New Zealand attempted to stay off his pads and ended up overcompensating.
So Kane Williamson called on Boult again, who promptly confounded the opposition’s best batsman. An inswinger demanded Amla come forward – he couldn’t – nibbled on the inside edge and settled in wicketkeeper BJ Watling’s gloves. Boult wasn’t able to turn the tide like that on the tours to Australia in late 2015, nor was he his usual self in the home Tests that followed. But at Kingsmead, he pitched the ball on off stump with remarkable precision and the batsman did not know whether it would carry on with the angle or veer back at him. He was a sitting duck.
So it was important that South Africa took the time to find stable ground. That responsibility fell on Temba Bavuma and the stand-in captain Faf du Plessis. The runs came at a trickle but their 54-run partnership was the second-biggest of the day. South Africa had expressed a desire not to accept mediocrity on the eve of the match and though each of their specialist batsmen spent at least 30 minutes at the crease it wouldn’t please them that only one managed a fifty. Bavuma came within four runs of the mark, driving serenly and pulling authoritatively. But he was trapped lbw by Santner soon after Quinton de Kock ran down the track and spooned a catch to cover.
New Zealand had been patient, they had strangled run-flow when wickets weren’t forthcoming and gave themselves the chance to pounce at the slightest opening. Literally, as it turned out.
In the fourth over after tea, Williamson flew to his right at gully and came up with a one-handed screamer to dismiss du Plessis. The bowler was Wagner, who had already caused frustration for South Africa and in particular JP Duminy by bouncing him out minutes after lunch. No one springs the leg-side trap quite like Wagner, going wide of the crease, summoning effort from some secret dimension very few fast bowlers have access to. He surprised Philander with another short one on what became the fourth over before bad light ended the day.
Things were tough at the start too. Like freshmen at a college party, Cook and Dean Elgar had spent the first several minutes assessing conditions. They tried to keep to their little corner and hoped they eventually would feel comfortable enough to shake a leg or two. Boult hit the perfect spot in the 14th over. Cook was caught in the crease, defending inside the line and with soft hands. Had that ball carried on with the angle, he would have been safe, but Boult brought it back in and claimed the edge. Quite unplayable.
Elgar was worked over in a similar manner by Doug Bracewell, who switched around the wicket to draw the batsman into pushing outside his off stump and edging to second slip. Williamson at gully put his head down and clapped his hands hard. He had said his bowlers had to be “creative” to get their wickets in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago. Nothing of that sort was required at Kingsmead, where the red ball swung just enough to play on the nerves of a top order that hadn’t played Test cricket in seven months.