West Indies hold the advantage despite collapse
The momentum of the first Test, utterly, if unexpectedly, with the West Indies throughout the previous eight sessions, shifted rapidly in a final hour of crazy cricket of the third day at St George's Park yesterday.
A piece of carelessness set off a clatter of wickets that has become a frustratingly familiar sound for the West Indies and let South Africa back into a contest that was slowly, but surely, heading beyond their reach.
Six tumbled for 46, the last four in the space of three runs and 3.1 overs, to reduce the West Indies to 146 for 8 in their second innings.
As Dwayne Bravo's probing medium-paced movement had converted South Africa's 122 for 5 at the start to 195 all out and earned a first innings lead of 208, West Indies still enjoy a healthy advantage of 359.
It is a total compiled only five times to win in Test cricket's 130 years and none on this ground. Yet the team that had a spring in its step as the day ended in evening sunshine was South Africa for the first time in the match.
The transformation was triggered by the game's most unnecessary dismissal, a run-out. After an opening blitz by Chris Gayle, that included a hooked six and three fours in an over from Dale Steyn that cost 19, the captain and Runako Morton fell in quick succession.
Daren Ganga and Marlon Samuels, entrenched and at ease against bland bowling on a still true pitch, were putting things right again with a partnership of 65, with West Indies 122 for 2 and 335 to the good, when they ignored the reputation of their opponents' fielders.
Samuels, the non-striker, called and Ganga responded for a sharp run on a push into the covers off left-arm spinner Paul Harris.
As Ganga scampered for his ground, Herschelle Gibbs swooped on the ball and scattered the bowler's stumps with his direct throw.
The TV replay ended Ganga's vigil of just over three hours for 45 and changed the course of the innings and, possibly, the match. Eight balls later, in the following over, Samuels, with 40 to follow his first innings 94, essayed a pull shot off the pacy Steyn. The stroke that presented a tough, dropped catch to Harris on the square-leg boundary only eight runs earlier was now diverted from the under edge into his stumps.
The double breakthrough was like an injection of energy for Steyn and the South Africans. Confined to two wickets for 121 from 31 overs in the first innings and, until then, wicketless in the second, the vaunted South African spearhead charged in with pace and menace. There was a lot of bobbing and weaving, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy took blows to body and a wicket looked likely every ball. Steyn added two more and had an undeniable influence on Harris' two. Bravo spent 26 minutes of torment which he ended himself, seeking release by punching Harris straight to mid-on as if providing catching practice.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the one best equipped to stop the slide, lasted only 15 balls this time, 238 fewer than in his first innings 104.
His edged catch to third slip off the rampant Steyn has always been the best way to break through his defence before he has settled. South African celebrations as he trudged off told a story.
Steyn proved altogether too much for Sammy, even though his wicket went to Harris, lbw, and for Denesh Ramdin who could only fend a lifter to gully.
The close, extended into the extra half-hour, came just in time to prevent an end to the innings. Whatever the fast bowlers can muster between them this morning would be welcome. At one stage, it appeared as if they would not be required to bat.
Until the late meltdown, West Indies had continued the dominance enforced from the first day when they were sent in. They again bowled with thought and purpose and Daren Powell, who could hardly catch a cold in the previous series in England, even in a damp summer, pulled off two perfectly judged, running takes at long leg.
The first accounted for the always dangerous Mark Boucher from a top-edged hook off Jerome Taylor after quarter-hour. The second ended the innings and gave Bravo his fourth successive wicket, reward from quality medium-paced swing and seam bowling.
|Until the late meltdown, West Indies had continued the dominance enforced from the first day when they were sent in. They again bowled with thought and purpose and Daren Powell, who could hardly catch a cold in the previous series in England, even in a damp summer, pulled off two perfectly judged, running takes at long leg|
It was best exemplified by the ball that defeated AB deVilliers who threatened much more than his impressive 59.
It pitched middle, passed on the outside of de Villiers' defensive bat and trimmed off- tump. Not many batsmen can cope with that. Harris, a right-hand blocker, stayed an hour and 40 minutes for nine and then hit his first aggressive stroke low to mid-off.
Andre Nel and Steyn threw the bat with abandon, and some effect, but Bravo finished both off for figures of 4 for 24 from his 13.1 overs.
In light of what happened later, he might remember Brian Lara's admonition a few years ago in Australia that he is a batting, rather than bowling, all-rounder.
For the moment, it is his bowling, and that of the others, that will be required to secure the victory that seemed so certain up to the last hour yesterday.