Proteas overcame the crippling loss of Dale Steyn not just for the current match but for the rest of the series to get their noses back in front of Australia after a memorable second day to the opening Test match at the WACA on Friday.
The manner in which the Proteas turned the game around was reminiscent of some of their heroic deeds of the past and was well up to the tradition that these contests have built up over the years.
The day’s play could be summed up in two statistics. The first was the Proteas taking all 10 Australian wickets for just 86 runs – the latter’s third worst collapse ever – to restrict the home side to an inconsequential lead of just two runs and the other was the top-order’s response in extending the lead to 102 by the close for the loss of two wickets.
Crucially, Steyn captured the key wicket of Dave Warner (97 off 100 balls, 16 fours and a six) in the over before he left the field with a recurrence of the fractured bone injury to his right shoulder to put an end to a partnership of 158 between Warner and Shaun Marsh.
It required Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada to shoulder extra responsibility and workload, and they responded magnificently, well-backed up by Keshav Maharaj who on his debut displayed the maturity of a veteran. He effectively not only blocked up one end but took key wickets as well, including Australian captain Steve Smith.
Philander finished with 4/56 with Maharaj taking 3/56 and Rabada 2/78.
The second biggest partnership of the Australian innings was worth only 29 runs.
Having got the match back on an even keel, it was vital that the Proteas got away to a better batting start with Dean Elgar and Stephen Cook, putting on 35 for the first wicket, and although Hashim Amla went cheaply for the second time in the match, they then consolidated the position with the unbroken 59 for the third wicket between Elgar and JP Duminy.
What was more important than the runs they scored was the confidence with which they batted. They were in total control of everything the Australians came up with, and Duminy was particularly impressive with the quality of his driving.
What the Proteas now need is for the pair to take the game away from Australia. The target they need to set Australia will obviously have to be inflated to counter the unfortunate absence of Steyn.
The longer they can bat, the more wear and tear the pitch will suffer, particularly with very hot weather predicted for the third day, which would enable Maharaj and Duminy to play important bowling roles in the final innings.
The national selectors will now have to decide whether to send a replacement for Steyn although they do have two other fast bowling options on tour in Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott.
– African News Agency