THE Standard Bank Proteas suffered a potentially disastrous double run out for the second time in six months against India as the visitors arguably had the better of day one when the second Sunfoil Freedom Test match got underway at SuperSport Park on Saturday.
In the closing hour that bore an uncanny reminder of what happened in the ICC Champions Trophy in England last year the Proteas went from a comfortable and controlling 246/3 to 269/6 at the close.
In fairness to the Proteas batsmen involved the first run out of Hashim Amla (82 off 153 balls, 14 fours) was the result of a moment of fielding brilliance by Hardik Pandya who has developed a reputation of pulling something out of the bag on this tour when it is most needed much as Ben Stokes has done for England and Eddie Barlow did for South Africa in a different era.
But the second run out that accounted for Vernon Philander offered no such excuse.
On the face of it South Africa’s close of play total compares with the average first day score at this venue of 263/6 but the teams are not playing on an average SuperSport Park pitch. Normally, the faster bowlers would send down most of the overs and take most of the wickets. But this time it was off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin who bowled almost twice as many overs as any of the seamers and took three of the four wickets to fall to a bowler.
The pitch was slow without lateral movement but offered both turn and bounce to India’s spin bowling ace. It is safe to say that if both sides had known what was to happen on day one they would probably have chosen slightly different starting XIs.
Both sides went in with a solitary spinner with the Proteas handing a debut cap to Lungi Ngidi, the 99th player to represent the Proteas in this format.
The Proteas bossed the first 80 overs of the day thanks to successive partnerships of 85, 63 and 51 from their top order with Amla and Aiden Markram, who showed maturity beyond his years in adjusting his game to suit the conditions, laying the foundation. Markram finished top scorer with 94 (150 balls, 15 fours) and the two batsmen contributed 29 of the 40 boundaries that the Proteas hit on the day.
In the process Markram matched the achievement of Barry Richards in scoring more than 500 runs in his first seven Test innings (both hit two centuries) and today’s effort was his most important to date as it provided evidence, if it was needed, that he has what to takes to bat at the highest level of Test cricket.
An extremely bright future awaits him.
Although Ashwin (3/90 in 31 overs) did most of the damage the plaudits were equally due to their seamers who stuck manfully to their task in unhelpful conditions coupled to extreme heat.
The ball is now squarely in Faf du Plessis’ court to get the Proteas lower order through the difficult second new ball period and to give them a chance of posting a competitive total. They look well short of that at the moment.