Before South Africa even stepped onto the field to start this Test match, the general consensus was that they had done themselves a massive disservice.
The team that was selected for this second Test boggled the mind. Vernon Philander, the most technically sound batsman in the first Test, was dropped in place of the extra batsman, Theunis de Bruyn, which I think was a mistake. I do rate de Bruyn, but I think this will be a tough ask for him, he hasn’t played much and adding the extra batsman won’t help if the top order doesn’t perform.
The second omission was that of Tabraiz Shamsi. We learned that Shamsi’s father had sadly passed away earlier in the week, was he in the right frame of mind to play? If not, the question beckons, why not then play Shaun von Berg? He is a specialist spinner, who, by all accounts, is handy with the bat. So why not play him? What good is it to have him on the tour and not play him in these conditions?
On a slow and dusty wicket, the Proteas’ decision to omit their 2nd specialist spinner in place of an extra pace bowler, Lungi Ngidi was quickly realised to be a mistake. Sri Lanka’s openers, Danushka Gunathilaka (57) and Dimuth Karunaratne (53) put on an opening stand of 116, and on an unresponsive pitch, South Africa went through the morning session wicketless, and things were looking bleak for them going into lunch.
Keshav Maharaj, the lone spinner, picked up 3 wickets in the post-lunch session, and the Proteas picked up a further 6 wickets in the final session to get Sri Lanka to 277-9 by close of play.
We know that South Africa’s strength is their pace attack, but in Sri Lanka, with very little on offer for the seamers, they have to learn to adapt. By the close of play, Maharaj had bowled a whopping 32 overs, on day 1 of a Test, but boy, did he make it count with his figures of 8-116. These are the best figures for a South African spinner since readmission, and the best figures by any touring spinner. We all wanted to see how Maharaj would do in favourable conditions, and we have not been disappointed.
Despite the lack of seam movement on offer, South Africa’s seamers still toiled hard. Kagiso Rabada showed great control and accuracy with his bowling, At such a young age, he knows exactly what is required of him and he executes it brilliantly. He was the only other wicket-taker today.
It was a good day of Test match Cricket, South Africa worked hard in the field, but they were rewarded by getting 9 Sri Lankan wickets. Day 2 is an important day in the context of the series for the Proteas. The bowlers have given them a good start to the Test, and Maharaj has said that he is hopeful of putting in another good performance in the 2nd innings, and be on the winning end of it. That will only happen if the batting comes to the party.
All the talk after the 1st Test was that South Africa were not mentally prepared for this series. Well, they’ve now had time in the 1st Test and in the days after to get mentally prepared. With Maharaj’s bowling today and with a pitch, on day 1 already showing signs of wear and tear, we will see tomorrow if they achieved this. I would say that Dale Benkenstein should be a very worried man.
The game plan for tomorrow is simple. South Africa must dismiss the final Sri Lankan wicket within the first 10 minutes of play and then set their heels in to bat all day. All of Maharaj’s efforts will be for nought if the batsmen don’t do their job.
You have to wonder, if Maharaj got 8 wickets on day 1, what will Sri Lanka’s spinners do to a fragile South African batting order?
We asked for the Proteas to show some fight in the first Test, some resolve to stay at the crease, some resistance. Surely they have learned from their mistakes from the last Test, right? We cannot see a repeat of that.
For now though, let us rejoice in the beautiful bowling by Maharaj, and look forward to Dale Steyn maybe getting his record-breaking 422nd wicket in the morning.