WI third test well balanced after day two

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Sulieman Benn flights one during a long spell.
Sulieman Benn flights one during a long spell.

[www.inewsguyana.com] – It was a languid day at Newlands. A decent crowd lolled contentedly for much of the time under blue skies and confidently awaited a position of South African dominance: if not today, maybe tomorrow, a few bottles of Castle hence. A dry, cracked surface only occasionally displayed the awkwardness that many anticipate later in the Test. It was the sort of day for Alviro Petersen to get his Test career on track; instead he found his own devils.

It looked as if Faf du Plessis drew Petersen into a misconceived single that caused his downfall, enquiring about a single to Jermaine Blackwood at backward point and agreeing to it with doubts already forming. But it was Petersen, the non-striker, who accepted it and he was still well short of his ground when Blackwood’s graceful throw struck the stumps.

That left Petersen with only limited reward for a disciplined innings: 42 from 85 balls, an innings of undelivered promise in a Test full of them. In the Cape Town New Year’s Test two years ago, he made a century against New Zealand. He must have had visions of another one. Instead, he has three fifties in 26 knocks.

South Africa made two mistakes – and even one feels out of character for their top-order batsmen when they cloak themselves in the disciplines of Test cricket, as natural an accoutrement for them as the cloud dressing Table Mountain, a cloud that gathered during the day and caused rain to end play prematurely with nine overs still unbowled.

Du Plessis, partial architect in Petersen’s downfall, will also wonder what he was playing at when he charged at the left-arm spin of Sulieman Benn and never got to grips with a wide delivery, leaving Denesh Ramdin with an age to complete the stumping.

For du Plessis to falter on 68 maintained the pattern of this Test in which six batsmen have been dismissed between 42 and 68, most of them carelessly. Hashim Amla also has a half-century, but his is unbeaten and he is better designed than most to play the quintessential innings.

His presence in a rain-abbreviated final session, firstly with du Plessis and then with AB de Villiers, guided South Africa to within 102 runs of West Indies’ first-innings 329: a conscientious commitment in the face of a solid West Indies bowling display towards what they hoped would eventually be a position of authority.

It was Benn, who bore much of the West Indies burden in the second half of the day, a big man varying his pace intelligently and finding occasional, if unstartling, turn. He perseveres throughout these long spells as if fatigue will not be long coming and only an iron will is keeping him going, see-sawing through the crease slightly stiffly as if springing out of a rocking chair in search of his favourite slippers.

South Africa lost a wicket in each session. The morning went swimmingly as they took slightly less than ten overs to take the last four West Indies wickets as they fell for 329, the one blot on the landscape when Dean Elgar succumbed to the penultimate ball of the session, lbw working to leg as Jason Holder produced a big inducker from around the wicket.

A dryer-than-normal Newlands surface gave West Indies encouragement, but there were few alarms, one painful rap on the glove for Elgar when Jerome Taylor found some uneven bounce proving to be a harbinger of well, not much at all really. But South Africa have to bat last on this surface and, if West Indies can keep them within 50 runs on first innings they would remain very much in the game as they seek a victory in this third Test to pull back to 1-1 in the series.

If six down for 276 overnight could be presented as a job well done for West Indies, as batsmen remember the labours undergone, six down the following morning with Steyn steaming in with a newish ball, felt like a different proposition. Steyn sensed some quick pickings, finishing with four wickets as West Indies opted for an enterprising finale to their innings, thwarted in his search for another five-for by a deserved intervention by Morne Morkel, who had bowled well on the first day without reward.

An exploratory over from Simon Harmer was an unexpected prelude, designed for Dale Steyn to switch ends but, that dispensed with, the threat was more physical. 33 were rattled up in 25 balls. Blackwood, 45 not out overnight, secured his half-century before Steyn had him lbw with a fullish delivery. Blackwood reviewed to no avail.

Holder, having got away with a pull against Vernon Philander, took on the more challenging task of pulling Steyn and scythed a catch to mid on. Morkel caught the mood: another short ball, an uncontrolled flick of his hips and Jerome Taylor picked out Steyn, moving back at long leg. It all ended with Benn pushing Morkel low to mid off. (Cricinfo)

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