It was Test cricket at its very best as the world’s No.1 and No.2 sides went head-to-head in the first of a mouthwatering three-match series.
Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis won the toss and elected to bat first. By the close of play, the hosts had managed to get themselves to 286 runs after an early morning wobble. In reply, India were in big trouble at 28-3 before stumps were called.
We look at the good and bad after a fantastic exhibition between bat and ball.
BHUVNESHWAR KUMAR’S SCORCHES PROTEAS TOP ORDER
The Newlands curator had promised seam movement from day one and he duly delivered on that as Bhuvneshwar Kumar made the most of the conditions on offer.
The seamer removed South Africa’s top three in a three-over burst at the start of the day showing fantastic control of the red-ball as he generated movement both ways.
He removed Dean Elgar with one that seamed away from middle-stump in the first over and then dismissed Aiden Markram with one that nipped in after pitching. The third was the biggest of them all as he got Hashim Amla to poke at one moving away from the right-hander to make it three wickets in as many overs.
He returned to remove Quinton De Kock who was threatening to take the game away from India to complete a fantastic display.
AB DE VILLIERS’ BRILLIANT COUNTER-ATTACK
With the Proteas in dire straits at 12-3, it was left to the pair of Du Plessis and AB De Villiers to rescue the side, something the duo have done many times over the course of their careers.
De Villiers had only just returned to the Test arena after a two-year hiatus in the one-off four-day game against Zimbabwe on Boxing Day but he rolled back the years on Friday with a characteristic counter-attacking knock that took the edge off India’s charged up attack.
He shuffled across off-stump with regularity to create his own angles as he drove and cut with swagger. The 33-year-old piled on the runs in quick time as he found boundaries at will. He combined to put on a 114-run stand with his skipper and notched up his 41st Test fifty on the way before becoming Jasprit Bumrah’s maiden scalp.
INDIA’S SLIP CATCHING WOES RESURFACE
The visitors’ slip-catching has not been on point for some time with some big sitters being dropped in the cordon in the past year or so.
Virat Kohli’s team selection meant India’s best-slip fielder in Ajinkya Rahane did not take the field. There were no dropped chances of the big South African batsmen thankfully but there was a warning sign for things to come when Shikar Dhawan dropped a sitter off the edge of Keshav Maharaj in the final session.
While this drop did not turn out to be too costly for India, they will need to massively up their game in this department as the series progresses.
INDIA’S BATSMEN FAIL IN THEIR FIRST TEST
India’s hope of ushering in a new era overseas took a battering in their very first hurdle as their age-old failings against the seaming ball came back to haunt them.
With 14 overs to see out before the close of play for the Indian batsmen, it was always going to be a testing period against the Proteas pace quartet and it was one they failed at miserably. The openers and Kohli fell cheaply as India’s top-order mirrored South Africa’s collapse.
However, the fact that all three of India’s dismissals could have been avoided with some sensible batting. Murali Vijay chased a cover drive off a Vernon Philander delivery outside off while Dhawan attempted to pull Dale Steyn when he was in no position to do so.
Kohli’s dismissal will grate the skipper hard after he attempted to play at a steep rising delivery from Morne Morkel outside his off-stump. At 28-3, the visitors have thrown away the advantage they had gained in the morning and will be in for another baptism with fire when they come out to bat on Saturday morning.
The young leg-spinner took the ball midway through day two of the New Year’s Test at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground.
He handed his cap to the umpire and marked out his run, his heart beating twice as fast, as he prepared to deliver his maiden ball in Test cricket.
Waiting patiently down the other end was a well-set batsman ready to pounce on anything short or over-pitched. In the field one slip and a short leg, plus some scouts on the boundary.
The bowler ran in, dragged it down short and the batsman easily rocked back and pulled the ball to deep midwicket. A single and the Test career of a young leg spinner had begun.
The above is describing not 20-year-old English leggie Mason Crane who bowled his first ball in Test cricket on Friday in the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney. It’s actually describing then 22-year-old Shane Warne, the greatest leg-spinner in history, who made his Test debut almost 26 years to the day in the same city.
The debut of a leg-spinner in Test cricket is something to be celebrated as leg spin bowling is without doubt the most difficult of all bowling arts.
There are two key questions with a leg spinner: 1. Can they spin it? 2. Can they control it?
A few can answer the first question positively but very few can answer the second in the affirmative.
Hence it so rarely happens that a leggie reaches Test standard and of those who are lucky enough to make their debut, very few are able to forge a lasting career at Test level, especially English leg-spinners.
In the last fifty years England have only picked five leg-spinners – Robin Hobbs, Ian Salisbury, Chris Schofield, Scott Borthwick and the unlucky Adil Rashid.
Of those only Salisbury reached the 15 Test mark and Rashid’s 38 wickets were the most taken.
Warne’s debut was one to forget – 45 overs, seven maidens, one wicket for 150.
But the legendary Australian’s one wicket was one to savour – man of the match Ravi Shastri – who on 206 went for one too many lofted cover drives and skied one to Dean Jones at deep cover.
And here’s the rub – although Warne was carted in that first Test – he stuck to his guns, kept tossing the ball up and eventually got his man. He would go on to take 707 more wickets in a career that lasted a decade and a half.
Crane ended his first day with 17 overs, no maidens, no wickets for 58 and he’s already talked about hoping for better figures in his first Test than Warne.
But to do that Crane must also stick to his guns.
Already, as Warne himself pointed out in commentary, Crane was tightening up, burying the ball in the palm of his hand reducing spin and drift.
The perfect leg-spin delivery floats out of the back of the hand, drifts in towards a right hand batsman, then bites off the pitch spinning back across the batsman to take the edge or the off stump – as was so perfectly displayed in Warne’s ball of the century which accounted for Mike Gatting at Old Trafford in 1993.
But as Crane conceded some boundaries he began to flatten his delivery arc, resulting in zero drift and precious little spin.
It might have meant less runs but it also meant less chance of a wicket.
So if Crane is to follow Warne’s path and play 50, 100 – or even 20 Tests – then he needs to keep following the advice of his coach, former Aussie leggie, Stuart MacGill, and toss it up. MacGill was never one to bowl safely.
Yes the roof of young Crane’s mouth may end up getting sunburnt as he looks skywards to watch sixes disappear into the crowd, especially with Mitch Marsh soon to bat, but with this Australian batting line-up, on this wicket, in the end Crane will get wickets – and not just one. Maybe two, three, four, even five.
And for Crane, the great Hampshire hope, at the start of his test career – two for 200 is much better than none for 90. Just ask Shane Warne.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar took four wickets including three in his first three overs as India’s bowlers gained the ascendancy on the first day of the first Test against South Africa at Newlands on Friday.
South Africa were struggling at 230 for seven at tea despite half-centuries from AB de Villiers and captain Faf du Plessis. Kumar had figures of four for 68.
Du Plessis said batting first on a well-grassed pitch was a tricky decision and a disastrous start must have reinforced his misgivings.
Kumar gained appreciable movement off a well-grassed pitch to plunge the South African innings into disarray at 12 for three.
After some spirited batting by South Africa, Kumar took another wicket shortly before tea to put the world’s top-ranked Test team in a strong position against their second-placed opponents.
De Villiers and Du Plessis put on 114 for the fourth wicket, with De Villiers in sparkling form as he hit 65 off 84 balls with 11 fours.
He showed intent from the start of his innings, hitting four fours off Kumar?s fifth over to launch a South African counter-attack.
De Villiers missed a drive against new cap Jasprit Bumrah and was bowled. Du Plessis went on to make 62 off 104 balls with 12 fours before he was caught behind off Hardik Pandya.
Quinton de Kock (43) and Vernon Philander (23) put on a rapid 60 for the sixth wicket before De Kock was caught behind by Kumar and Philander was bowled by Mohammed Shami.