South Africa Tour Wrap

When New Zealand flew to South Africa in late October, one might have been forgiven a sense of deja vue, and not just in the normal sense that cricket teams meet more than once in a lifetime; their previous Test series had ended less than 18 months previously, the South Africans had played just 10 Tests in between and the Kiwis a mere 2. So little had changed in the meantime it was hard to shake the feeling of “what’s the point?” As so often, too, the Kiwis’ injury problems cast a shadow over the series, James Franklin missing both games and Shane Bond and Jacob Oram the Second Test. The South Africans, by contrast, were bold enough to leave-out Shaun Pollock, just 34 years old and with 416 Test wickets (and 3781 runs) to his name. In addition to being unnecessarily regular repetition, this series was hopelessly lopsided from the 2nd day to the 7th and last.

In addition to this, the surfaces left a little to be desired. Preferable though they may have been to the sort of surface which Australia were playing Sri Lanka on across the Indian Ocean, the pitches became uneven too quickly and too often made batting a lottery. Only two batsmen conquered the conditions, but they did it so convincingly they placed a chasm between the two sides. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis combined netted 637 runs, over 44% of the series tally (338 came from the bats of other South Africans, 581 from Kiwis).

It was perhaps surprising, then, that only one bowler truly enhanced his reputation in the series: Dale Steyn, who had taken 7 for 142 and 7 for 134 in the First and Third Tests of the series in April and May 2006, once again asked questions few of the New Zealand batsmen had any answers to. With 10-wicket bags in both Tests, winning Man Of The Match both times, Steyn managed an astonishing strike-rate of a wicket every 16.8 balls, and an average of 9.20. The rest of South Africa’s attack – which basically comprised Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel, plus a few overs here and there from Kallis and a very occasional one from Paul Harris – did more than enough to keep New Zealand on the back-foot, and with more luck Ntini and Nel could easily have had better rewards. As it was, though, both averaged exactly 30, while Harris sent down just 9 overs in the entire series.

The New Zealand top – and lower – order was reduced to rubble. Michael Papps managed a dismal total of 17 runs in 4 innings, Scott Styris 59, Brendon McCullum 69 (plus one crucial dropped catch), while Ross Taylor had a torrid introduction to Test cricket with 44. Daniel Vettori, not-out in half his innings, averaged 39 and Stephen Fleming gave hints of his class in scoring New Zealand’s only half-century of the series and managing 154 runs in total, almost the next highest tally from one of his countrymen, Vettori. Craig Cumming, meanwhile, will require a short break from the game after being struck a fearful blow by Steyn and requiring some metal plates in his cheekbone.

New Zealand’s bowling, while never coming close to matching Steyn’s firepower, was never far away from a wicket when Amla and Kallis weren’t at the crease. With new-ball in hand Bond was lethal in the First Test, though less so when the shine came off, and Mark Gillespie overcame a shockingly poor introduction to clean-out the South African middle-order in the Second. Chris Martin kept going and managed 6 wickets, even as Amla and Kallis made him look pedestrian at times, and Oram, as usual, offered control, though after he had taken 14 for 86 in the two tour-games on sporting surfaces he might have hoped for a little more. Vettori, though, endured yet another hugely disappointing series against the South Africans, against whom he has now taken just 18 wickets in 11 Tests, at almost 70 each. It was difficult to assess him as a captain in his maiden Test series, so inept could the bowling at his disposal be of times, though one plus was that he never appeared to lose his cool. Iain O’Brien, sadly, had a second foray into Tests which was as forlorn as his first, and rarely looked like taking a wicket.

In fielding, too, the South Africans came out comfortably on top. New Zealand were far from poor, especially when Lou Vincent was on the field (which consisted of most of the series, even in the First Test in which he did not play), and in ground-fielding there was little between the teams. Only one catch went down on each side, too, though Kallis’ miss cost South Africa nothing, while McCullum’s grassing of Amla’s edge in the First Test gave the batsman the chance to score 174 more without ever looking like giving another opportunity. However, the South African seamers found the edge time and again, and any number of far-from-straightforward chances were snapped-up by Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs in the cordon.

Only in one respect were the home side found palpably lacking: their batting aside from Amla and Kallis was insecure. Smith endured a horror trot, dismissed by Martin 3 times out of 3 for a combined total of 12 runs; Ashwell Prince failed in both first-innings (and scored a pressure-off 25* in the one second dig his team had); Gibbs and Mark Boucher played potentially crucial knocks in the first-innings of the First Test but did little else (though Boucher batted just once more), and de Villiers managed a pair of 33s which fail to add any security to a place which has begun to look tenuous recently – since being moved down the order in the aforementioned series between these sides in 20056, de Villiers has averaged just 28.32 in 27 innings, and his head is now likely to be first on the chopping-block if Neil McKenzie’s fine form continues.

Despite these worries, South Africa can be more than content with their series’ work. The now play a Twenty20 game and three ODIs, both of which were also played earlier in 20056 and both of which the home side convincingly dominated too. West Indies are next after that, while New Zealand follow a brief tour of Australia with a visit from Bangladesh and then their next serious engagement is at home to England starting in February.

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