The Proteas showed a lot of fight at Newlands, but not enough to mask their shortcomings following their sixth defeat in their last seven Test matches, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
The Cape Town groundsmen produced an absolute belter of a wicket for the New Year’s Test. It’s one of the main reasons why this enthralling clash went the distance, which is quite rare for Test matches in South Africa over the last couple of years.
The pitch had something for the bowlers on the first couple of days. It started to flatten out on day three and four, before the England spinners came into the game on the last day. But there was still some good carry throughout, even though the track lost some of its zip in the later stages.
Unfortunately the Proteas haven’t played well on good wickets for quite a while now. It started last year when they were shocked at home by Sri Lanka, who won their first-ever series in South Africa by a 2-0 margin.
Those two Tests were played in Durban and Port Elizabeth, where the pitches are a lot flatter than some of the other venues around the country. The Proteas also struggled in India on docile wickets and lost that series 3-0.
The Proteas won the home series before that against India, Australia and Pakistan on spicy wickets, some of them borderline dangerous, which obviously suit their strengths. It’s the home team’s right to produce wickets that suit them, but in a sense it has also crippled the South Africans when they get on to a pitch that provides a good contest between bat and ball.
England made better use of the conditions at Newlands, even after they were bowled out for 269 in their first innings. They fought back well to restrict the hosts to 223, even though the pitch got easier to bat on.
The visitors then batted smartly, with Dom Sibley showing great application to anchor their second innings, before the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler took the game away from the South Africans on day four. From then on, chasing 438 in just over four sessions to win the game, the writing was on the wall.
England bowled with a lot of skill in the fourth innings to win the game after stubborn resistance from the South African team, who batted 137.4 overs in an effort to try to save the match.
Rookie Pieter Malan showed the way with a gritty and disciplined 88, occupying the crease for more than six hours. Rassie van der Dussen also batted over three hours and faced 140 balls for his 17 runs. However, their more experienced teammates, captain Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, played two horrible shots, which gave the English their in.
England also showed South Africa how to go about compiling an innings on a flat wicket, following a few soft moments by the batting lineup, which should have filled their boots and batted the visitors out of the game in the first innings.
The South Africans didn’t bowl with enough skill and patience in England’s second innings. The Proteas have world-class operators with the ball, but they struggle when the surface is really flat.
The next stop for the Proteas is St Georges Park, which is likely to be even slower and flatter than Newlands. The Proteas have to find a way to get wickets on a flat deck, as well as scoring big runs, otherwise they will be 2-1 down going into the last Test in Johannesburg.
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