South Africa v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Cape Town May 1, 2006

Pitch is the winner after fooling captains



There wasn't much for the bowlers to shout about at Newlands © Getty Images
The numbers tell the story: 1226 runs, 390 overs, 21 wickets. In the end the Newlands pitch fooled everyone. Graeme Smith expected more help first up when he asked New Zealand to bat and Stephen Fleming eyed his spinners as potential match-winners. Neither situation eventuated and it means South Africa maintain their series lead heading into the final Test at Johannesburg

Yes, the pitch was flat but what this match has highlighted is the limits of both the bowling attacks. South Africa bowled first, where the early start and damp conditions offered the seamers encouragement, then New Zealand had the advantage of a wearing surface with useful footholes and a hint of bounce. However, Daniel Vettori was disappointing - perhaps affected by the pressure of expectation - and it was Jeetan Patel who proved the more effective.

But, despite an impressive debut where Patel wasn't afraid to toss the ball up, he was never going to rip through a batting line-up. After Stephen Fleming had batted on into the third morning it left New Zealand needing a wicket roughly every ten overs - they were never going to fall that quickly. A top-quality legspinner - Shane Warne or Anil Kumble - or the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan would have fancied their chances to get among the wickets, but the fingers spinners on view did not have the penetration required.

Africa would have expected more from their pace attack even though conditions were benign. It goes without saying that Makhaya Ntini never wavered from his task, but Andre Nel was disappointing and will be looking over his shoulder with Shaun Pollock due to be fit for Johannnesburg.

Dale Steyn is developing into an exciting package and showed what bowlers with real pace could have done. His first spells were the most impressive - the stamina will improve the more he plays - and despite a soporific final day worked up a real head of steam. He is the future of South Africa's attack and with some careful advice - Allan Donald has a key role here - Steyn will trouble better teams than New Zealand.



Hashim Amla's first Test century has given South Africa another batting option © Getty Images
Even though the surface was full of runs the batsmen still had to make it count and there was certainly a serious amount of cashing in. The stand between Fleming and James Franklin turned a respectable New Zealand total into a mammoth effort. Fleming made the most of a weakened slip cordon; Boeta Dippenaar, not a natural in that position, dropped him on 136. It was an innings of single-minded determination but he always had a difficult equation in the back of his mind. With a limited attack his bowlers needed plenty of runs in the bank but they also needed plenty of time to take wickets. The docile nature of the pitch means the hours batting on the third morning made little difference in the final outcome, although slightly more urgency on the second evening would not have gone amiss.

However, you can't blame Franklin for taking his time. It is not often a Test No. 9 will get the chance of a century. His sturdy defence and ability to latch onto anything lose should not come as a huge surprise, with a first-class best of 208, and he may find himself moving up in the order before long.

Hashim Amla's century was the most significant innings of the match. Returning to Test cricket at the troublesome No. 3 position he is a more complete player than his first stint in the team, when he was found out by the England pace attack. The abundance of overs bowled by spin helped his cause, there was still a tendency to flirt outside the offstump against the seamers, but with Herschelle Gibbs taking time out this hundred as opened up South Africa's options in the batting department.

New Zealand battled impressively throughout this Test but, regardless of the surface, they were always up against the autumnal weather conditions which ate into the time. Early finishes will be a factor at the Wanderer's in three days time and with the South African batting finding some form they are favourites to secure a much-needed series win.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo