Tue, 22 Sep 2020

PE Test: Too early to brand pitch a lemon

17 Jan 2020, 04:10 GMT+10

Cape Town - Yes, it was a good old grind.

But on the scale of funereal, there's a case for saying day one of the third Test between South Africa and England at St George's Park on Thursday didn't even register.

Just based on comparative statistics, in fact, it might be ventured that there was more than enough fizz to counterbalance any perception of excessive "zizz".

The tourists' cagey 224 for four at stumps after a full quota of 90 overs - having luxuriated at the outset on Faf du Plessis losing a third toss in the series and his sixth in a row - will have seemed torpid to many, and not always without reason.

Things reached a nadir in the middle of the three sessions, when only 56 runs were posted in 31 overs ... a rate of 1.80 to the over.

Well into the final one, in fact, it looked as if England were digging an unnecessary hole for themselves on the typically slow but still overwhelmingly bat-friendly surface, as they slid to 148 for four after prior sound reason to harbour ambitions of posting one of those "shouldn't lose from there" first-dig totals of 450-plus.

But then two batsmen who, by reputation, tend not to do "bogged down" - exhilarating all-rounder Ben Stokes and the dashing young Ollie Pope - not only beefed up the scoring rate considerably in the late afternoon, both before and then after the new ball, but re-established the innings sufficiently in an unbroken fifth-wicket alliance of 76.

That pair compiling their runs together at a pepped-up rate of just above three to the over also put paid to any possibility that the day was going to squeeze itself somewhere into the Test record books for slow play.

Remember that this ever-quirky game boasts some quite jaw-dropping historical stats, only one of them being that the record for fewest runs in a full day's play is 95 (yes, 95, and also on the first day) in a Karachi Test between Pakistan and Australia - the latter the primary culprits for the tedium -- in 1956/57.

St George's Park, despite its long-held reputation for being patience-examining, doesn't crack the top 10 as a dubious host ground in this category.

But sneaking in at No 10, mind, is a previous and not too hugely distant SA-staged Test match between South Africa and England ... up the coast at Kingsmead, in the summer of 1999/2000.

In a similar scenario, having won the toss, the side led by Nasser Hussain - part of the commentary team providing service to SuperSport in this series - more genuinely crawled to a lamentable 135 for two in 85 overs.

Hussain was more culpable than anyone for the virtually absent sense of adventure against Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and company, poking his way to 51 not out at stumps from a five-hour vigil.

The Friendly City's time-honoured primary cricket ground itself has seen a few more lethargic days' play in Tests, including the first one India ever played at St George's in 1992/93, when a Boxing Day crowd saw the visitors amass only 197 for eight in 90 overs on day one and eventually go on to lose by nine wickets.

At least part of the "problem" in Thursday's caution-laden batting activity was attributable to the enterprisingly stifling - sometimes shrewdly trapping, too -- field settings by Du Plessis and the occasionally unorthodox lines by his seam bowlers to offset the back-breaking hallmarks of the pitch for them.

Criticised after the Newlands Test, frontline spinner Keshav Maharaj was also a much improved (including disciplined) figure on a heavy-industry day for him in which he warranted one or two more scalps than his modest strike tally of one.

Maharaj sent down 32 overs alone, including bottling up one end for the duration of the second session, and leaked just 55 runs at 1.71 to the over.

What needs to be kept in mind, before coming to the blanket opinion that experienced curator Adrian Carter's surface for this contest is a poor one, is that Port Elizabeth reportedly served up on Thursday weather conditions unusual for the Eastern Cape metropolis.

It was apparently humid and fatiguingly warm rather than more customary blustery - often producing a legendary "swing wind" -- and temperate.

There is ample time yet for this Test to prove engrossing in the final analysis, even if not necessarily shoot-the-lights-out spectacular for tempo ...

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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