The second Test between New Zealand and South Africa in Port Elizabeth is, thus far, following a very similar course to that of the first in Cape Town. Both matches have seen the tourists struggle with the bat first time around, concede a huge first innings lead, and then mount a belated fightback, led by BJ Watling and Dean Brownlie.
It was Watling today who, along with last man Trent Boult, almost doubled New Zealand’s first innings score. It was then Watling and Brownlie who prevented the familiar collapse in the second innings and led their side to a position approaching respectability. They closed day three on 157 for four - still 247 runs away from making the hosts bat again.
Resuming on 47 for six, it was always a question of when, not if, New Zealand would be forced to follow-on. The answer was 15 minutes before lunch. It might have been sooner were it not for Watling and Boult’s tenth-wicket stand of 59.
Watling and Doug Bracewell had survived the first eight overs of the day and, for a time, it looked as though South Africa might be in for a long day. However, Dale Steyn started to find his line and length, along with a little swing, and soon had the Black Caps nine down for 62. Bracewell got a touch to a beauty; Neil Wagner was leg-before to an in-swinger, and Jeetan Patel continued the ploy of backing away to leg that had proved so ineffective in Cape Town and was castled third ball.
With Boult coming in below the inept Patel, South Africa would have been eyeing the innings’ end. However, Boult decided to go the more recognised route of getting in line and found, unsurprisingly, that it was more effective. He allowed himself some moments of exuberance, upper-cutting Rory Kleinveldt for four and lofting him down the ground for six, but, in the main, played for his more senior partner as tail-enders are supposed to do.
Watling made the most of this unexpected company and also tucked into Kleinveldt, hitting him for three boundaries in an over, and bringing up his fifty from just 75 balls with a cut off Robin Peterson. The fifty partnership was New Zealand’s next milestone, coming after just 37 balls, and, for perhaps the first time, South Africa would have been starting to get a little concerned. Fortunately for them, the end came with the score on 121 and Watling on 63 when he edged a cut to Graeme Smith at first slip. New Zealand were 404 behind and would have to follow-on.
The four overs to lunch were negotiated unscathed, though not without a scare. Martin Guptill, in atrocious form, must have thought the world was against him when he was given out caught off his arm, but was left thankful to be living in an age of DRS and was soon reprieved.
The second session didn’t produce too many runs as Guptill continued the battle against his demons, Brendon McCullum continued his go-slow from the first innings, and Kane Williamson struggled for the duration of his 32-ball stay before being sent packing on the stroke of tea.
Guptill did eventually find some fluency after Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel had finished their first spells, with his innings of 48 perhaps just enough for him to keep his place for the first Test against England. Fluency, though, is not a word that could be applied to McCullum’s batting - or, for that matter, that of Williamson.
After being handed the captaincy, McCullum appears to have reined in his attacking instincts to such an extent in an effort to appear responsible that he is now virtually strokeless. Williamson, surely a future captain and immensely talented, is just going through a bad patch and is shouldering more responsibility than he should at this stage in his career. Both men were dismissed by Robin Peterson before tea.
The period that came half an hour after the interval had an air of déjà vu about it. Guptill’s innings ended when he was bowled by Kleinveldt, with Daniel Flynn completing his pair the following ball with an edge through to de Villiers. With 27 overs still left in the day, the collapse, and a three-day defeat, was on.
No more wickets fell, however, as the pitch, by now flatter, and South Africa’s bowlers, tiring, presented fewer problems. Brownlie and Watling each closed the day just short of fifties and looked considerably more at ease around off-stump than previous New Zealand batsmen had done. The South Africans were punished whenever they erred, with both batsmen strong on the cut - a fact that is unsurprising given that their early years were spent in Perth and Durban respectively. They will need to at least treble their fifth-wicket partnership of 73 tomorrow if New Zealand are to walk away from Port Elizabeth with anything other than an innings defeat.
© Cricket World 2013
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