December 9, 2000

Seam attack gives South Africa the upper hand

South Africa's bowlers, not least among them the 21-year-old debutant Mfuneko Ngam, vindicated Shaun Pollock's decision to bowl first on the second day of the third Castle Lager/MTN Test match at the Wanderers with a disciplined effort on a fast and bouncy pitch that broke the spine of the New Zealand batting.

With the whole of Friday's first day lost to the weather, the South African seam attack moved the game along quickly when it finally got going, bowling out New Zealand for just 200. By stumps, the home side had reached 18 for the loss of Gary Kirsten's wicket.

Ngam bowled with impressive pace and control in his first outing at this level, but the pick of the seam attack was another product of South Africa's development programme, Makhaya Ntini, who again demonstrated just how much he has learned in the past two years.

With the help of four dropped catches in the first session, two of them off Ngam, both from Adam Parore and both spilled by Daryll Cullinan at first slip, New Zealand reached lunch reasonably comfortably at 83 for one. By tea they were 121 for six as the middle simply fell out of the batting.

Eight balls into the afternoon session the tourists were already 83 for three with Ngam finally, and deservedly, getting his first wicket in the over after lunch when Mark Richardson, on 46, couldn't cope with one that got big on him and was caught at the wicket.

The other not out batsman at the interval, Mathew Sinclair, went four balls later, generously providing a tame edge to Lance Klusener at third slip, one which was finally held.

From there on New Zealand were struggling all the way. Ntini came back for a terrific second spell to york Stephen Fleming and have Nathan Astle caught at second slip and when Jacques Kallis had Craig McMillan also taken at second slip, the innings was in tatters.

There was some resistance down the order, most notably from another debutant, Hamish Marshall. Whatever his faults as a Test player, impatience cannot be counted among them. He took 61 minutes to get off the mark, a record, apparently, for a player in his maiden Test, and was still there at the close of the innings, unbeaten on 40.

But it probably won't be nearly enough. There is, thankfully, pace and bounce in this pitch, but it is by no means unplayable. The South African bowlers, however, seldom strayed from a threatening line around off stump, they bowled the right length and none of the New Zealanders was able to break the shackles.

All of this has moved the game along quickly and despite the loss of the first day, a result is entirely possible in this match. But if South Africa are to push their first innings along on Sunday, they will have to do so without Kirsten.

He was clearly unamused at getting out with the light fading in the evening, and must have been positively seething when the umpires called off play two balls after his dismissal.

For all that, South Africa are very handily placed and their bowlers must take all the credit. Ntini finished with three, Pollock, Ngam and Kallis got two each and Lance Klusener accounted for Brooke Walker, who made a brave 17 in an 18-over partnership with Marshall. It's unlikely, however, that this will prove enough.