Dismal weather limited play on the second day of the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand to just 22 overs at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead on Saturday, but that was enough time for Dale Steyn to confirm that he remains a great fast bowler despite not having played Test cricket since the match against the English in Durban last Christmas.
New Zealand’s chances of dominating South Africa were looking way slimmer as the tourists had slipped to 15 for two in reply to the Proteas’ first innings of 263, with Steyn boasting exceptional figures of 6-4-3-2.
Steyn, looking lean and mean, made a successful return to Test cricket as he claimed both wickets to fall, while Vernon Philander, another man making a comeback from injury, plugged away at the other end and was unfortunate not to feature among the wickets as well.
South Africa had resumed their first innings on 236 for eight, play being delayed for 50 minutes on a damp morning in Durban, and it took New Zealand no more than half a dozen minutes to strike, a fine delivery from Tim Southee proving more than enough to breach Steyn’s defences as it speared through his gate and bowled him for two.
But Kagiso Rabada showed that he is more than capable with bat in hand as he scored a stylish 32 not out, his highest score in Tests, to lift South Africa to 263 before Dane Piedt (9) was caught in the slips off Trent Boult.
The left-arm paceman was the best of the Kiwi bowlers with three for 52 in 21.4 overs.
By the time bad light stopped play seven minutes before the scheduled lunch break, the Proteas’ total looked more than competitive. But the heavy clouds remained through the afternoon, before proper rain arrived just before 3.30pm and the Black Caps were denied any chance of making further progress in reducing the deficit.
Steyn started with two great overs from the Umgeni End, the ball coming out beautifully, but it was Philander who created the first opportunity as Tom Latham, on three, edged a fine delivery, that nipped away, low to second slip, where Dean Elgar spilt what should have been a comfortable catch.
The left-handed opener was out in the seventh over of the innings though, having added just a single to his score, when the masterful Steyn found the edge with a full delivery, the bat coming down the wrong line, and Hashim Amla hung on to the head-high catch at first slip.
Steyn claimed his second wicket, that of the other opener Martin Guptill for seven, at the end of his next over, the craftsman shaping the ball back into the batsman beautifully and trapping him leg-before plumb in front of the stumps.
Kane Williamson (2*) and Ross Taylor (2*), the key pairing in the New Zealand batting line-up, survived until the dark rain clouds returned over Kingsmead with the South African pace attack itching to take more advantage of the bowler-friendly conditions.
Proteas bowling coach Charl Langeveldt hailed the return of the two spearheads of the attack.
“To have those two back is especially good. It didn’t swing as much for us but there was seam movement and that was key for us. They got more swing so our batsmen played and missed by a country mile. Conditions were good for bowling but the fact that we got so many balls in the right area was most important.
“We were able to build pressure; Dale and Vernon bowling in tandem. They’re much fuller bowlers although they are both skiddy, and their experience makes a big difference. There’s been a lot of speculation about their future but it comes down to their fitness and how keen they are to play.
“They are both excited to be back after long breaks, fortunately things went their way today and they both came off with big smiles, although they haven’t finished their spells yet,” Langeveldt said.