The Proteas bowlers combined to claim 16 wickets on day two and beat Zimbabwe by an innings and 120 runs at St George’s Park. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Several questions were asked in the build-up to this fixture; the first four-day, day-night Test on South African soil. Is the new format good for the game? How will the vastly different conditions in the evening sessions impact on performance and strategy?
Two days later, and it would be a stretch to say that those questions have been definitely answered. The game witnessed only one evening session on day one, and just short of five sessions overall.
The inherent slowness of the wicket and the extra assistance on offer for the bowlers in the evening provided the South African batsmen with a challenge. Zimbabwe, however, failed to apply much pressure with bat or ball and were ultimately outclassed by a superior side.
Aiden Markram did well to adapt to the pace of the wicket and wait for the bad deliveries on day one. The 23-year-old played beautifully for his 125, and was one of only two South African players to score more than 50. AB de Villiers, playing in his first Test since January 2016, scored 53.
The gulf between South Africa and Zimbabwe was highlighted when the latter had an opportunity to bat. The tourists lost four wickets late on day one. It took the Proteas 68 minutes to claim the remaining six wickets in the first session on day two.
Morné Morkel (5-21) was in magnificent form, and was well supported by the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Andile Phehlukwayo. Zimbabwe were dismissed for 68, some 241 runs short of South Africa’s total of 309-9 declared. De Villiers, standing in for regular skipper Faf du Plessis, didn’t hesitate to enforce the follow-on.
Morkel struck Hamilton Masakadza on the elbow with a sharp delivery and the Zimbabwe opener was forced to retire hurt. Other than that, Zimbabwe managed to survive to the interval with all 10 second-innings wickets intact.
Indeed, they were looking good when Justice Chibhabha and Craig Ervine were at the crease and the score was 54-0. Conditions at that stage were ideal for batting and the opening pair of Morkel and Vernon Philander had been taken out of the attack.
Ervine and Brendan Taylor attempted to rebuild after Chibhabha was caught behind off the bowling of Kagiso Rabada. The innings took a turn for the worst, though, when Taylor attempted to sweep Keshav Maharaj, edged the ball onto his pad, and was brilliantly caught by Hashim Amla at slip.
Maharaj and Phehlukwayo were the pick of the South African bowlers in the second innings. The latter got the ball to jag back and trap Ervine lbw not long after Taylor’s departure. Suddenly Zimbabwe had two new men at the crease.
Sikandar Raza and Ryan Burl departed in quick succession. Masakadza recovered from the blow he sustained earlier in the day, and returned at the fall of the fifth wicket. Maharaj found the edge of the opener’s bat and in doing so removed the last of the recognised batsmen.
Fittingly, it was Maharaj who took the final wicket to finish the innings with a five-for, his third in Test cricket.
Zimbabwe lost their last nine wickets for 67 runs. While questions should be asked regarding the tourists’ batting at this level, the Proteas deserve credit for hitting the right areas and making the most of their chances.
The upshot is that the Proteas have claimed a convincing victory in this one-off Test. It would be a stretch to suggest that they will take anything from this clash into the more challenging Test series against India, which starts on 5 January.
It remains to be seen who will feature for South Africa in that Test at Newlands. Captain Faf du Plessis was ruled out of the game against Zimbabwe due to a viral infection, as was Dale Steyn, who hasn’t played a Test since November 2016.
Quinton de Kock injured his hamstring while batting on day one at St George’s Park. If he fails to recover sufficiently, the Proteas may need someone else to keep wicket at Newlands.
De Villiers did a good job against Zimbabwe – taking eight catches, a South African record against Zimbabwe – but has an existing back problem that may be exacerbated by the wicketkeeping duties.
SA 309-9 declared (1st innings) – Aiden Markram 125, AB de Villiers 53, Kyle Jarvis 3-57, Christopher Mpofu 3-58
Zimbabwe 68 all out (1st innings) – Kyle Jarvis 23, Morné Morkel 5-21, Kagiso Rabada 2-12, Andile Phehlukwayo 2-12
Zimbabwe 121 all out (2nd innings, following on) – Craig Ervine 23, Brendan Taylor 16, Keshav Maharaj 5-59, Andile Phehlukwayo 3-13
South Africa won by an innings and 120 runs
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) December 27, 2017
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images