South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test, Port Elizabeth, 1st day February 20, 2014

Elgar shines but Australia hold the edge


South Africa 214 for 5 (de Villiers 51*, Duminy 2*) v Australia
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Video report - Port Elizabeth not a Mitch Pitch

The opening day at St George's Park was less traumatic for South Africa than the four in Centurion as Dean Elgar shone on his return to the side, but loose strokes in the evening session left them vulnerable. They avoided the sort of performance that could have handed the series to Australia on a plate - and which threatening to develop during a rough first half an hour - only to slip as the light faded on an overcast day to close on 214 for 5.

A third-wicket stand of 112 between Elgar and Faf du Plessis provided the cornerstone of the innings. However they will rue the strokes played by Elgar who, having fought for nearly five hours and 193 balls, tried to clear the in-field against Nathan Lyon and then debutant Quinton de Kock who became the latest batsman to fall to a Steven Smith full toss. AB de Villiers, the only batsman to counter Australia in the first Test, remained unbeaten 51 as he made it a world record of 12 consecutive Tests with at least a half century.

South Africa have lengthened their batting order for this Test - Elgar was in line for a recall and de Kock was called in when Alviro Petersen was ruled out ill - so they still have the chance to post something around 350 and challenge Australia with scoreboard pressure which has been rare in the last few months.

The opening exchanges did not bode well for South Africa. The lead-up to the toss was chaotic with uncertainty over Vernon Philander's fitness to go alongside the three team changes. Some hasty scribbling eventually put Philander on the team-sheet, but it was perhaps no surprise that Graeme Smith departed early when he played around a full, swinging delivery from the probing Ryan Harris on a muggy morning.

In the next over, from Mitchell Johnson, Hashim Amla was firstly beaten by a ball that swung in from outside off and then trapped lbw by another delivery that did the same but had been pitched straighter. It gave Johnson his 50th Test wicket since the beginning of the Ashes and few would have bet against him quickly adding No. 51, but that is not how the day unfolded.

Elgar was still on nought by the time Smith and Amla departed. On his only previous appearance against Australia, on his debut in Perth, he bagged a pair and it took him 20 deliveries and 43 minutes for him to score his first run against this opposition.

However, during that wait to open his account he had not appeared ruffled. His composure was further evident when he slog-swept Lyon for six to register his first boundary and he later deposited the offspinner straight down the ground. Between those grand shots there was good judgement around off stump, the occasional punchy cover drive, plenty of nudges into the leg side and no little bravery as he was willing to take blows around the body from Johnson.

There was also the occasional edge - when he was 15 a combination of soft hands and the slow pitch meant a nick fell short of Brad Haddin - but, by and large, he was in control as he brought up a 112-ball half-century.

Du Plessis played equally impressively and it was he who eased the early shackles imposed by Australia's bowlers with a brace of cover drives off Peter Siddle. He, too, used his feet against Lyon and shortly after lunch clipped him over deep midwicket for six.

Two boundaries in three balls against Johnson, the second a well-controlled pull, took him to his fifty from 117 balls but he fell moments later to the curse of the drinks break when he prodded forward against Lyon and popped a catch to short leg. A soft dismissal which emphasised the absence of the ruthlessness with the bat that characterised South Africa's rise to No. 1

However, it had been a rare occasion of Australia having to work for a wicket: this was only the second century stand they have conceded since the beginning of the Ashes. The other belonged to Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root during the second innings in Adelaide. Their bowling rarely wavered and Johnson remained a threat despite the slowness of the pitch.

Without Shane Watson's medium pace, the value of Lyon in keeping the scoring rate down and chipping key wickets was priceless for Michael Clarke. He continued to use Harris and Johnson in short spells, and both were primed for late bursts before the light closed in. Moments earlier Smith had done his job when, in a first over the largely consisted of long hops and full tosses, de Kock came down the pitch to a one that did not land and heaved an ugly mow to mid-off.

De Villiers reached his half-century from 124 balls - an indication of how hard the batsmen were made to work - when he pulled another half-tracker from Smith. That was enough for Clarke who, when told he could not use his quicks, was content to leave the field. South Africa know what will hit them in the morning.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kabir on February 21, 2014, 11:35 GMT

    Unfortunately a draw is most likeliest outcome. 3 of the 5 wickets to fall were give aways by S.A so that leaves 2 wickets in a day and a half. Tough bowling track, for BOTH teams. The inevitable acceleration might bring wickets later on but S.A have to be looking for 500/550 by days end, anything less will not be good enough to try force a win.

  • sunder on February 21, 2014, 11:01 GMT

    really ICC should impose a rule : Nobody is having any say in preparation of pitch. either home team r the other.. if that is the case the home team will not be allowed to change 'MID SERIES' and it should be monitored by ICC..

  • Kabir on February 21, 2014, 10:59 GMT

    TheBigBoodha , tell me which was the last test played in `PE and what was the result? Have you ever watched one out here in PE? Yet you rant on and on like you know whats up. A pitch cannot be doctored in only 4 days, takes weeks of prep. India has the conditions for the flat track due to weather. have they ever changed that?

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2014, 10:53 GMT

    Saffas must be watching a different game. Why are they so happy? They must have seen how slow the surface is and how all bowlers are going to be pushed hard for very little reward. Don't know how they think Steyn and Philander will work miracles when Harris and Johnson have shown how tough it is. Going to require divine intervention to get a result here. Do the maths - at this rate they will most likely bat until late afternoon and put the Aussies in for a crack, then it will be three days to take the opposing 20 wickets when only five have fallen in the day and a half thus far. Summary of the next three days - both the Saffas and the Aussies chase leather, hard toil for very little reward, draw is declared, the Aussie flawless record in SA is preserved and the #1 team playing at home comes up short one more time.

  • sunder on February 21, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    First time i am seeing that the home team is playing without their principle advantage ( SA fast bowling tracks)..... I wonder what smith would have told the curator... If the pitch is as it was three days ago,then SA will play their 2nd innings now...

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2014, 10:44 GMT

    @ xtrafalgarx. Seriously mate you clearly dont watch a lot of cricket. Steyn has been piling wickets non stop for years. I get so irritated when people jump the gun and comment too soon. If you dont know by now that cricket is a funny game, that is unpredictable and sways like a pendulum, then you cant say you truly know the game at all. Give the proteas a chance. They ARE the best and for good reason. Go boys!!

  • varsha on February 21, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    Excuse me, but are there some Indians on this thread complaining about dull and lifeless pitches? Really?...I mean....REALLY???

  • Android on February 21, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    @xtrafalgarx - He wont be here in 5 years time he'll be almost 40. Hope you can live without hands seeing "that you will eat" them if Steyn bowls well. Big comment continue from a country that has been in form for about 2 months out of 6 years

  • James on February 21, 2014, 10:35 GMT

    @Soviet: At least Subcontonental pitches turn. This doesn't turn, seam, swing or bounce. Rubbish.

    @Vlies: Accuse? It's true, the curator made it clear he had to wait for 'instructions' from Smith's men, cowardice.

  • Xiong on February 21, 2014, 10:35 GMT

    @JimmySA Actually I've been saying it since before the first wicket fell. Oh well, at least I put money on AB to get the most runs for SA. No chance of him getting out on this pitch.

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