Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma led the Proteas fight back at stumps on Day 2 of the first Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
PRETORIA – It’s been three summers since South Africa had what could be described as a dominant batting line-up.
It’s no surprise that in the 2017/18 season, Messrs De Villiers and Amla were still part of the Test side, while Aiden Markram was playing like a future superstar. That season across nine matches, South Africa scored a total of 11 Test hundreds. It should be noted that six of those came against Bangladesh, who weren’t equipped to bowl in South African conditions.
But the other five all came against Australia’s attack – the same four blokes currently regarded as the best in the world.
Since then South Africa’s batting hasn’t been good. Test hundreds have been like hen’s teeth. In 14 Tests since the series in Sri Lanka in July 2018, the Proteas have managed a grand total of five hundreds. Two of those have come from Quinton de Kock.
With a bowling attack that’s as inexperienced as the one South Africa is carrying in this game, the onus is on the batsmen to provide some security and to create some kind of path from which winning can still be sought.
Sri Lanka’s attack is not experienced either and like South Africa did on the first day and for half an hour on Sunday, the tourists too offered lots of scoring opportunities. The chance was there, to get hundreds, but South Africa, in particular the opening batsmen didn’t take them.
Markram’s been in a rich vein of form domestically and for most of the more than two hours he spent at the crease on Sunday he looked positively dreamy. Cover drives were delivered on bended knee, with an artistic flourish of his blade. There was a breathtaking backfoot cover drive off Lahiru Kumara and ‘KP-esque’ whip through midwicket that provided further reminders of his glorious talent.
One other positive feature had been the manner in which he left the ball… until he didn’t.
He succumbed to impatience against Vishwa Fernando and his body language as the ball was snaffled by the gully fieldsman spoke to Markram’s anguish.
Dean Elgar too was left a broken man, needing his bat to hold him up as the Sri Lankans celebrated his wicket after he struck a half volley straight back to the bowler Dashun Shanaka.
Elgar’s was a less picturesque innings than his younger mate, but the fact he hit 16 fours – one a stonking pull off the hard working and occasionally troublesome Lahiru Kumara, was indicative of his comfort at the crease. The opening pair at least ended one disconcerting streak – their 141-run partnership was the first century stand for the first wicket for the Proteas in three years, covering 22 Tests.
“It was nice to have that partnership with Aiden,” said Elgar, who made 95. “We’ve been doing quite nicely at domestic level so it was good to carry that form with us to the international arena.”
With over 700 runs scored in the first two days – although no batsmen has made a hundred yet – it might be tempting to think the pitch is flat. Far from it, Elgar explained. “I think there’s been some good batting, but also a lot of poor bowling.”
“There is still a lot of assistance out there for the seamers and quite a lot can still happen especially with the new ball. It’s certainly not as flat as the scores suggest,” Elgar added.
Only Quinton de Kock of the home side could be said to have succumbed to skill from an opposition bowler as he became Wanindu Hasaranga’s first Test wicket when he edged a top-spinner to first slip.
So South Africa remains without a Test hundred since De Kock’s 111 against India in October last year.
The onus thus switches to Temba Bavuma – technically efficient as usual – and Faf du Plessis, to take advantage on Monday of the good starts they’ve made.
Sri Lanka are down to nine men at the moment too, with Dhananjaya de Silva out of the series with a torn left thigh muscle and Kasun Rajitha, bowling just 2.1 overs before leaving the field with an unknown ailment. There’s still lots of time left in the match and if the two batsmen can get South Africa passed Sri Lanka’s total, a path to victory is still in sight for the hosts.
Sri Lanka 396 all out (Dinesh Chandimal 85, Dhananjaya de Silva 79, Lutho Sipamla 4/76, Wiaan Mulder 3/69)
South Africa 317/4 (Dean Elgar 95, Aiden Markram 68, Dasun Shanaka 1/56, Vishwa Fernando 1/59)
South Africa trail by 74 runs