Proteas, India bleed 23 wickets as Newlands is left to ponder ‘what just happened?’

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Joined: Nov 2016

“What the hell just happened?” No doubt that was a sentiment shared in pubs, around braais, in living rooms and certainly by the patrons as they departed this venerable venue on Wednesday.

“What the hell just happened?”

The naked statistics can answer one part of that question. There were 75.1 overs bowled, 270 runs were scored and 23 wickets were taken. Nearly half of a Test match has been completed on the first day. Ticket-holders for day three will be decidedly nervous. 

When Aiden Markram blocked the last ball, after some childish stupidity between the players as they waited for the clock to strike 5.30pm to signal the end of the play, it seemed a lifetime had passed since Dean Elgar, playing his last Test, had chosen to bat after winning the toss. 

At lunch, that looked like a rotten call. South Africa all out for 55 in 23.2 overs, Mohammad Siraj with six wickets after a dreamy nine-over spell from the Wynberg End.

Elgar would have based that decision on what Newlands has offered in domestic matches this season. Starts have been tricky to says the least, with teams often finding themselves on three or four wickets down in the first session. 

He would have banked on there being some damage, but he would also have believed that, as had happened in those domestic one-day and four-day games, the middle order would be able to thrive once the sun — aided by the wind — had baked the strip dry.

Perhaps the one Elgar’s error in judgment at the toss was that he should still have taken advantage of India’s fragile mentality after two poor performances with the bat in the first Test. There was every reason to feel that if the Proteas could get India, say, four wickets down at lunch, they’d collapse again. In fact they did, but by that stage they’d already built a 98-run lead. 

India lost their last six wickets without a run being scored in 11 balls, where all out mayhem ensued. Lungi Ngidi had been rubbish in the five overs he’d bowled up to that stage, and suddenly, having eventually found the right length, he delivered a triple-wicket maiden.

By stumps, India’s lead was 36, South Africa still has seven wickets in hand. 

Obviously, there will now be reflections on the surface. Records were broken or almost eclipsed on Wednesday that have stood for over 100 years. There is likely to be a call to Newlands’ new curator Braam Mong to account for the pitch’s preparation. It was still quite damp at the start of play, with a thicker than normal grass covering and balls zipped around off it, with bounce in particular disconcerting. 

The ball was still “talking” well past the 30th over in India’s innings, and poor Tristan Stubbs, making his debut in place of Temba Bavuma, got one that reared off a length and nudged the shoulder of his bat, giving Indian wicketkeeper KL Rahul an easy catch, his fourth of the day.

Eighteen of the 23 wickets fell to catches taken behind the stumps with the majority of batters struggling to deal with the bounce, which, when accompanied by the prodigious seam movement, made batting look impossible at times. 

Certainly in terms of fairness, the pitch is simply too weighted in favour of the bowlers. 

Naturally, there was chirping directed at South Africa about the 11 changes that will be made for the next match and that “mother cricket” was making her point about perceived disrespect being shown towards the Test format after the naming of a “B” team for the tour to New Zealand. 

As for this match? The first session on Thursday will determine how long it lasts. Markram, who looked good in making his unbeaten 36, will be key. However, if day one is anything to go by, it may well be beyond his control.



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