Second Test – Day 1: No-one blinks

Port Elizabeth 2nd Test: Day 1 – No one blinks

 

 “So it has come, the day of testing. Without warning, without fanfare, it is here, and he is in the middle of it. In his chest his heart hammers so hard that it too, in its dumb way, must know. How will they stand up to the testing, he and his heart?”

– JM Coetzee, Disgrace

 

South Africa 5/214 from 83 overs (D Elgar 83, AB de Villiers 51*, NM Lyon 2/47) v Australia

 

 

The story of this day is of stout and stoic resistance from a proud South African batting line up and of the absence of a fifth bowling option for Australia. It was a slow day. Only 83 overs. Only 214 runs. Only 5 wickets. But it was a testing day. Testing of South African nerves at 1/10 and then 2/11. Testing of Australian patience with NM Lyon bowling 23 overs, PM Siddle 22 and DA Warner and SPD Smith offering the only variation from the big four. The much-hyped crouching tiger and hidden dragon of MG Johnson finished with 1/44 from 15 overs. AB de Villiers set a new Test record.

==

 

Not five full days have passed since the triumphant and wildly blood-thirsty Australian bowling attack dismembered the stoic hopes and stoic bodies and stoic dreams of South Africa’s batting line up in Centurion.

 

Again it is Day 1 of a Test match morning. As is customary under such circumstances my otherwise normal city life is rent asunder by the brooding form of Clarrie Grimmett who remains faithfully my imaginary flying horse and who dutifully and heroically transports me across fields and continents and across time zones and oceans and who today sets us down in the south-eastern South African town of Port Elizabeth. We have followed the line of latitude from Sydney passing over Margaret River and we are interested to land amid a tumultuous and introspective South African cricket scene.

 

Appearances can be deceptive, of course, though nothing emanating from South African team or squad or news circles can dispel previous reckonings of a humourless mob of browbeaten workhorses now facing a tidal wave of emotion-charged execution as indeed it were their own execution. But stoicism runs deep in these parts. Clarrie remains unconvinced.

 

Port Elizabeth. This is Shaun Pollock country. Graeme Pollock country. The far-from-happy-campers of South Africa make three changes to their Centurion XI, with AN Petersen and R McLaren and RJ Peterson all omitted for D Elgar (not a contracted player) and Q De Cock (21-year-old debutant) and WD Parnell. Australia is unchanged.

 

As with last week GC Smith wins the toss and perhaps considering the consequences of facing a similar situation last week and choosing to bowl first this time decides to bat.  It’s a lively opening with the new ball in humid conditions and we see captain GC Smith wafting and edging short of the slips and playing and missing and finally being pinned on the back leg.

 

GC Smith   lbw  b RJ Harris   9  (1/10, 4.6 overs)

 

HM Amla plays ingloriously outside the line of his first ball and is then trapped on the crease to his second ball and we’re now just five and half overs into the day and two of the most permanent totems of South Africa have fallen.

 

HM Amla   lbw b MG Johnson 0  (2/11, 5.3 overs)

 

GC Smith and HM Amla are both of them out in the first blitz of the Wednesday morning and both out LBW and in both cases the batsmen were thankfully sufficiently content to accept the decisions of the umpires without review.  F du Plessis joins D Elgar who is himself yet to break his duck.

 

MJ Clarke throws his bowlers around with first spells of RJ Harris of four overs and MG Johnson of 4 overs and then PM Siddle of 8 overs and NM Lyon of 3 overs and D Elgar takes 40 minutes to break his duck and then hoicks NM Lyon over cow corner for his next six runs. Clarrie eyes me laughingly. The fifth bowler used is DA Warner. Bowling depth is a problem. The South Africans are here to play. Three edges have fallen short of the ‘keeper and slips as batsmen are playing with soft hands. They are here to play.

 

LUNCH: 2/64 from 27 overs (D Elgar 23, F du Plessis 26)

 

It’s a typical low and slow Port Elizabeth wicket and the early sting has all but left the square and it looks to be a day of occupying the crease and letting the rubs come. And this is the South African approach as they pick up runs from the odd poor delivery and F du Plessis drives RJ Harris to the boundary and D Elgar lofts NM Lyon for another 6.

 

Players and umpires take well earned drinks after 43 overs and Clarrie is hopping from foot to foot with the scenario of two batsmen each with scores in the 50s at the crease and looking set on afternoon of plunder. He whispers that spin will triumph today.

 

First ball after drinks and it’s NM Lyon who indeed gets the breakthrough with F du Plessis snaffled at short leg and we now are all interested in the arrival of the imperious AB de Villiers in the centre.

 

F du Plessis  c SPD Smith  b NM Lyon  55  (3/123, 43.1 overs)

 

Both of D Elgar and AB de Villiers show an absence of emotion and a depth of reserve as they tick off the overs in a grinding and spirit-sapping afternoon. Their bats are beaten rarely. Conjouring tricks will soon be required.

 

TEA: 3/145 from 57 overs (D Elgar 61, AB de Villiers 13)

 

MJ Clarke shuffles his deck and plays the occasion. But still D Elgar and AB de Villiers are up to the concentration required of them. It’s like an elongated game of chicken. Who will blink first? For all their redoubtable pluck, South Africa has not collected many runs. Australia not many wickets. The match could still swiftly swing anyone’s way. Clarrie bellows from the pit of his stomach in booming baritone: “Concentrate!”

 

NM Lyon throws another one up with the speculative air of a thoughtful off-spinner and D Elgar momentarily takes leave of his sentry duty and swipes with pre-meditated abandon across the line and only succeeds in lifting the nut to mid-off.

 

D Elgar c RJ Harris  b NM Lyon  83  (4/181, 69.3 overs)

 

Giggles all round now as Q de Kock joins AB de Villiers in the centre. Clarrie reveals a new side to himself with a seemingly non-stop run of one-liners such as: “Which de Kock will show himself today?” and “Look how erect de Kock is there” and other such nonsense.

 

MJ Clarke lobs the pill to SPD Smith for a couple of overs of wrist-spin prior to the second new ball whereupon Q de Kock experiences a premature ejaculation of excitement (it’s contagious) and charges down the track. He never gets to the pitch of it and ends up messily lifting a shot of surprise to mid-off before limply departing (that’s all now).

 

Q de Kock  c sub (MC Henriques)  b SPD Smith  7  (5/200, 76.5 overs)

 

Gravitas is momentarily restored when AB de Villiers creates a new record of being the first player in Test match history to score half centuries in 12 consecutive Test matches. Well done him.

 

But high farce soon returns when umpires inform MJ Clarke that the light is insufficient to permit him using fast bowlers. And so, with the new ball due and soft runs being the only thing on offer, stumps are called.

 

New ball in play with five wickets to get and AB de Villiers among them yet only 214 runs on the board. Game on.

 

 

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks OBP a day of good old fashioned test cricket great summary . Match which can go either way on the , 2nd day we eagerly await

  2. Better late than never (WordPress security had me placed on the proscribed list – for offences to good taste, no doubt), but nice work E Reg.

    The Saffers have impressed in the manner of their regrouping, then counter attack. The challenge is back in Australia’s court.

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