KESHAV MAHARAJ celebrated his home ground Test match debut with the key wickets of Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh on the opening day of the Sunfoil Test Series between the Standard Bank Proteas and Australia at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead on Thursday.
When bad light brought an early close with Australia on 225/5 after 76 overs after the visitors had won the toss on a good, although slow, batting surface, the match was evenly poised.
There could have been little doubt that the Proteas would have preferred to get a full day in fading light as they were only four overs away from the second new ball and only one wicket away from breaking through into the Australia lower-order.
Maharaj was key to the Proteas strategy after the Proteas decided to strengthen their batting with the inclusion of Theunis de Bruyn and field only four specialist bowlers. The strategy was sound as the surface was one that allowed Faf du Plessis to employ him early in the day and he sent down the most overs of any of the Proteas attack (2/69 in 24 overs).
His role and that of Vernon Philander, a typically economical and penetrative 2/36 in 17 overs, meant that the Australians were never able to get away to the free-scoring start they normally wish to employ.
There were two 56-run partnerships – the third wicket between David Warner (51 off 79 balls, 6 fours) and Smith (56 off 114 balls, 11 fours) and the fourth wicket between Smith and Shaun Marsh (40 off 96 balls, 6 fours).
For the rest the Proteas kept chipping away at regular intervals until Mitchell Marsh and Tim Paine added an unbroken 48 for the sixth wicket, leading to the close.