Record-breaking Sinclair turns it around for New Zealand
When Mathew Sinclair goes, he quite clearly goes big. The 25-year-old from Wellington spread his second Test century out over six-and-threequarter hours at St George's Park on Thursday and Friday and in doing so enabled New Zealand to give themselves at least a fighting chance in the second Castle Lager/MTN Test match against South Africa.
Sinclair's first Test hundred was a mammoth 214 against the West Indies. His second amounted to 150, just over half New Zealand's 298 in Port Elizabeth, and it helped turn his side's position around after the first day had belonged to the home team.
This was underlined in the final session on Friday as South Africa lost three wickets after Gary Kirsten and Boeta Dippenaar had put on 81 for the first wicket. Dippenaar might have been a little unfortunate to be given out LBW for 35 to Chris Martin, but the other two wickets to fall were the products of good wicketkeeping.
Jacques Kallis was caught close up by Adam Parore off Nathan Astle off a bottom edge from a delivery which barely bounced, and Kirsten was taken as he slashed at a wide one from Kerry Walmsley as he tried to get from 49 to his 23rd Test fifty.
Those three wickets made it a very good day for New Zealand who had started it precariously at 206 for seven. That the tourists are at least at parity with the South Africans is due to Sinclair's magnificent effort (and a 20 from Shayne O'Connor who stayed two hours to make 20 and help add 73 for the eighth wicket) and a slightly out-of-focus effort from the home team in the field.
For the first two days of this Test match South Africa have been a little off the mark. The bowling has perhaps lacked intensity, Mark Boucher let through byes three times on Thursday and on Friday Lance Klusener dropped two catches at slip, letting off O'Connor on 5 and Sinclair on 121.
By their own standards they haven't quite been up there. At the same time, this is not to say that Sinclair was given an easy ride. "I had to work for my runs out there," he said afterwards. "I'm very much mentally drained ... The South Africans are always at you. They bowl very good lines and lengths. I played and missed a lot. I guess I rode my luck a little."
Sinclair's hundred was the first by a New Zealand batsman since South Africa's readmission to Test cricket and, more significantly perhaps, it was the highest score made by a Kiwi against South Africa, eclipsing John Reid's 142 at the Wanderers in 1961/62.
He had plenty of time to study the pitch and while agreeing that it played noticeably slower on the second day than the first, he wasn't about to predict how it might play over the last three days. But the bounce has started to go up and down a little and it probably won't improve. South Africa will have to bat last on Sunday or Monday, but first they have to get into the high 300s or 400 if they are to put pressure on New Zealand.
Stephen Fleming's tactics were there for all to see on Friday. He gave Astle 13 overs from the Duckpond End to block one end up and rotated his seamers from the other end. The tourists are trying South Africa's patience, waiting to see who blinks first. It has not been particularly exciting cricket, but if and when one of the teams averts its eyes, this game could come quickly alight.