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Steyn gives South Africa edge
02 Jan 2008
By: Richard Dickinson

South Africa nudged in front on the opening day of the must-win Second Test against West Indies at Newlands, thanks to a fine performance in the evening session following some patient work in the previous two. Dale Steyn was the star yet again, but all the South African bowlers - even the wicketless Paul Harris - chipped-in. West Indies closed on 240 for 8, but at 183 for 3 almost halfway through the final session, they will feel they have squandered a position of some strength.

Chris Gayle, still far from 100% fit, had again insisted on playing, and this time won the toss. He might have wished he hadn't, though, as no-one could say conclusively whether batting or fielding would have been the best option. Gayle chose to play safe, choosing to bat. West Indies, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, omitted St.Lucian all-rounder Darren Sammy, giving a third chance to the notoriously ineffective wristspin of Rawl Lewis, 1 for 388 in his previous 4 Tests. South Africa had dropped Herschelle Gibbs, replacing him with Neil McKenzie. In electing to open with McKenzie and bat AB de Villiers at six, however, the selectors took a decision likely to raise many eyebrows unless it comes off.

The South African seamers bowled better than they had in the opening salvos at St.George's Park, Steyn in particular finding his familiar arc away from the right-hander. This did for Daren Ganga in the 5th over, and there was little the Trinidadian opener could have done about it, as the ball pitched on off, forced the stroke, moved away and bounced, and Mark Boucher took a good catch in front of Graeme Smith at first-slip. The breakthrough proved illusory, however, as Gayle and Runako Morton pillaged the bowling for the next 11 overs, putting-on 59. Gayle, whose hamstring caused him increasing trouble as his innings progressed, played two astonishing strokes for six off Makhaya Ntini, whose opening 6 overs cost 32.

Jacques Kallis has regained his habit of breaking dangerous partnerships in recent years, however, and he struck again when introduced in the 16th. The ball was unremarkable, and Morton's inability to control or time his off-drives was to blame. Twice he had mistimed attempted straight lofts, just clearing the fielders, prompting Smith to push back mid-off and mid-on. He was rewarded when Morton slapped a full ball from Kallis straight to Ntini, lurking at deep-mid-off. The field was further back still to Gayle, allowing him to stroll easy singles on his dicky hamstring, but Andre Nel grabbed his wicket with lunch approaching. From his customary around-the-wicket line to the left-handers, Nel pitched one full, got it to move away from Gayle's bat, and the batsman drove, somewhat unsurely, at it. McKenzie, at gully, marked his return to the side with an outstanding diving catch. The tourists lunched at 83 for 3.

Ntini, who bowled 4 consecutive maidens either side of the interval, almost had Samuels in the 5th over of his spell, but could not grasp a lofted drive. To call it a chance would be harsh: technological aids revealed the reaction-time was 0.47 seconds, and had the ball stuck in his outstretched right-hand it would have been something of a bonus. The South Africans, benefiting at times from an impossibly slow outfield which necessitated perfect timing to even think of hitting a boundary, stuck to their task, as first Ntini and Steyn, then Nel, then Kallis, then Harris dropped the ball on good lengths for most of the session. However, 43 came from the final 10 overs of the session, and the home side's heads begun to droop.

They regained control once again for the first 6 overs of the evening session, but when Steyn conceded 13 in an 8-ball over in the 61st things were fast slipping away from them. Fortunately for Smith, Ntini answered his call. Replacing Steyn, he produced two beautiful deliveries to dismiss Samuels, then Dwayne Bravo immediately after. Even with a 63-over-old ball, he still found some away movement, and first Boucher then Kallis at second-slip took smart catches from balls that angled in, forced the defensive stroke, and cut away. The irrepressible Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 41 off 143 when Bravo was dismissed, combined with Denesh Ramdin to take his side to the new ball, bringing-up his half-century off the last ball he faced before the 80th over.

His side were soon to be grateful for the limpet-like left-hander's sound innings, as Steyn once again found prodigious late swing with the new cherry. Ramdin was unable to cope, playing across a full away-swinger to be trapped plumb in front. Lewis' reintroduction was not a happy one as he missed a similar ball first-up, and this time it crashed into his stumps. Steyn could not complete a hat-trick, but Jerome Taylor did not last too long this time, popping a simple return catch to Steyn in the 87th. Chanderpaul looked as untroubled as ever, finishing on 64 at the close, and West Indies know that if Daren Powell and Fidel Edwards can stick with him tomorrow they may yet post a total that could trouble the home side.

South Africa, however, know that with a ball just 9 overs old and rested bowlers they can quite conceivably wrap-up the innings for under 250 tomorrow. They will then have the opportunity to put right some batting which, aside from Hashim Amla and Kallis against the New Zealanders, has been decidedly below-par since returning home from Pakistan. A good day with the bat tomorrow, and the series might yet swing their way as the one against India did last summer.

West Indies 240 for 8
Chris Gayle 46, Marlon Samuels 51, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 64*
Dale Steyn 4-60

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