Windies struggle on day one of third Test

Simon Harmer picked up his maiden Test wicket with the last ball before lunch.
Simon Harmer picked up his maiden Test wicket with the last ball before lunch.
Simon Harmer picked up his maiden Test wicket with the last ball before lunch.

[] – Dale Steyn’s two wickets were the sole rewards for South Africa’s quicks on the opening day of the third Test – enough to take him past Makhaya Ntini’s 390 Test wickets and go second in South Africa’s all-time list – but as respectable as that sounds for West Indies when pitted against the No. 1 Test side in the world, they frittered away the chance to go big on a peaceable Newlands surface.

Four of the top seven batsmen fell between 43 and 54 – including Denesh Ramdin late in the day – and three of them should have left with self-recrimination. There has been a giddiness about West Indies’ cricket in South Africa, a batting side seeking to attune itself to the rhythms of Test cricket and never quite managing it. Just as they seem to be dancing efficiently to the right tune, somebody momentarily puts the hip hop on.

But the first day also surrendered to a debutant offspinner putting his first imprint on Test history. Simon Harmer had burst into tears in a supermarket when he heard the joyful news of his Test call up, and already he has heard the kerching of three West Indies batsmen dropping into his trolley.

Twice Harmer struck to peg back the West Indies just as they hoped to break free, firstly Devon Smith tempted into an indiscreet cut on the stroke of lunch, then Leon Johnson lbw to one that skidded on in mid-afternoon. Occasionally, his sunglasses bounced up from his nose as he delivered, offering him the chance to view his wickets as they happened in two different shades.

His third wicket was a collector’s item. Shivnarine Chanderpaul had only been stumped once before in 272 Test innings, but Harmer caused him to overbalance against the first ball after tea as he flicked helplessly to leg for AB de Villiers to pull off a neat stumping. Figures of 3 for 67 in 25 overs represented a good day’s work and suggested subtleties of flight that made him worthy of selection.

South Africa were grateful for his incursions. Vernon Philander and Steyn began with bowling averages at Newlands under 17 and 22 respectively, but Steyn was not taken by the pitch, providing a salty assessment of its worth after only three overs when he banged one in halfway and was rewarded by the ball barely rising stump high.

The Wynberg End proved more to his liking. It took two balls after a switch of end to remove Kraigg Brathwaite. A century in the rain-wrecked affair in Port Elizabeth had underlined his resilience, but his dismissal fitted a recognisable pattern: drawn into a drive, the batsman edged to Dean Elgar at gully.

Two balls later and Steyn hollered for the wicket of Johnson, but this time, ironically, there was too much bounce and South Africa did not review umpire Paul Reiffel’s decision. But they did review when Morne Morkel jagged one back to rap Johnson’s pads on 4, failing to overturn the decision by the narrowest of margins.

Smith’s caressed off-side drives were the main feature of the morning, but impatience cost him as he was bowled by Harmer with the last ball of the session. South Africa’s captain, Hashim Amla, attacked as lunch loomed, and Smith could not resist seeking a boundary which would have taken him past 50 for only the seventh time in a 38-Test career. It was a cramped stroke, with Smith eyeing the open spaces on the off side and the ball struck the top of middle via a slight bottom edge.

Harmer had struck in only his fourth over, but there would be more than a few Newlands members who would be muttering as they observed a bared midriff in the process of delivery that now he had graduated to the Test match club, it was high time he learned to tuck his shirt in.

Johnson scooted to fifty as West Indies played freely after lunch, but he also needed dollops of fortune against the short ball as South Africa set two men back for the pull and he allowed himself an escapade or two. That half-century, only his second in Tests, came with a chancy drive against Harmer over cover before the bowler outdid him in the flight to win an lbw verdict.

Marlon Samuels’ tendency to aberration was illustrated when he responded to the fall of Johnson’s wicket by clearing his front leg in the next over, from Morkel, and attempted to slog him into the crowd. He failed to make contact, but South Africa were put on alert. Perhaps a blow on the helmet from Morkel had unsettled him.

It was not just a fluke therefore when Samuels, on 43, frustrated by a lengthy period in mid-afternoon when South Africa had dried up the runs, found the 120kph fill-in medium pace of Stiaan van Zyl irresistible. His first ball was a sedate wide half volley, which began wide and went wider and which Samuels slapped obligingly to cover. What goes through the mind of the The Crab, Chanderpaul, when he sees such waste? Does it wash over him or does he re-mark his guard with boiling frustration.

Ramdin, sinews stiffened by New Year resolutions about better times ahead, had perceived a day ripe for batting and would have hoped for better. When Chanderpaul was prised out, half the side had gone for 172 and calamity beckoned.

But Jermaine Blackwood, back at No. 6 in a stronger batting line-up, joined Ramdin a stand of 94, only for the captain’s sensible knock to end with a return catch to Steyn shortly before the close. It was South Africa’s only breakthrough with the second new ball, but Steyn’s neck bulged red with pleasure all the same. (Cricinfo)



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