Spinners dominate truncated day
South Africa 70 for 3 (Kallis 6*, Harris 0*, Shillingford 2-5) v West Indies
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Never before has a Test match been played at the Queens Park Oval as late in the year as June, and after a day in which only 34 overs were bowled, it wasn't hard to see why. When play was possible, a fascinating battle between South Africa's batsmen and West Indies' spinners - Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford - began to take shape. Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen had negotiated a seam attack blunted by an unhelpful surface with aplomb to go to tea at 45 for 0. But the spinners came to the fore after the interval, with Shillingford removing both openers on his Test debut and Benn getting rid of the in-form Hashim Amla to leave South Africa struggling at 70 for 3 when bad light stopped play.
Though Dwayne Bravo bustled in with characteristic enthusiasm, the quicker bowlers appeared unthreatening on a very dry wicket and it was no great surprise when Benn was brought into the attack early. He immediately found bounce and sharp turn off a tacky surface, although his length was slightly too short at first. He pushed the ball up in his second over and soon had Smith flapping awkwardly off the front foot and, coming round the wicket, he also had the right-handed Petersen poking nervously outside off stump.
West Indies have suffered from a dysfunctional team environment in recent times, but good communication between Chris Gayle and his bowlers was evident today in some inventive field placements - a leg gully for Benn, and a close, straight mid off for Bravo. Indeed, Bravo could have had Smith for the sixth time on this tour when, shortly before tea, the South African captain drove in the air to that fielder as the ball plugged in the surface, but a leaping Narsingh Deonarine couldn't quite get his hands underneath the chance.
Denesh Ramdin couldn't hold on to a clear edge off Petersen's bat from Benn's first ball after tea, but the assistance he was getting from the surface convinced Gayle to bring Shillingford on from the other end and he, too, found encouraging bounce and turn.
With Shillingford operating from over the stumps, Smith was able to cover the turn and bounce with his body, the lbw shout totally negated by the line of delivery. The South African captain's tactic was to play back and deep in his crease, and Shillingford responded by pushing his length forward. Smith, having made a habit of playing back, didn't get a big stride down the wicket, the ball pitched, gripped and spun to take the edge and Bravo held on to the neck-high chance at slip.
Where Petersen and Smith had attempted to counter the spin by, generally, staying deep in the crease, Hashim Amla responded by shuffling right across to the off side to Shillingford and was unafraid to use the sweep even at the start of his innings. But while that worked, briefly, to the offspinner, Amla had no answer to the ball spinning across him and edged his ninth ball - from Benn - to slip, where Bravo held on to a second chance, and South Africa were 60 for 2.
With South Africa under pressure, men were positioned menacingly all round the bat, but they weren't needed as Shillingford picked up his second wicket when Petersen's attempted flick to leg was beaten by the turn and he was struck on the pad. With the UDRS referral system available for this match, Petersen consulted Jacques Kallis and asked for a referral. But, with insufficient evidence to overturn the umpire's decision, he eventually had to go, and South Africa had lost three wickets for just 15 runs to be 70 for 3.
Paul Harris was sent out as nightwatchman and was met with an ultra-attacking field, with slip, gully, silly mid-off, short leg and leg gully all in place, as well as Ramdin's fidgety presence behind the stumps. He managed to survive until the light deteriorated once more, but with the flaky batting surface already showing signs of breaking up, both Benn and Shillingford - as well as Gayle himself - will surely have a very important role to play as West Indies try to lay a platform for their first win of the series. For their part, South Africa may well have missed a trick by omitting Johan Botha from their side, and even JP Duminy would have found some life in this track.