South Africa fought back on the opening day in Cape Town as Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini shared six wickets to limit West Indies to 240 for 8. A 106-run stand between Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul had taken the sting out of the home side during a wicketless afternoon session before Ntini changed the complexion with a highly-charged spell. Steyn then began an efficient mopping-up job with his explosive mixture of yorkers and bouncers.
West Indies, though, are still in contention on a tricky surface which made batting hard work throughout with 20 fours and two sixes in the day. A slow, bumpy outfield also cut down the value of shots as the Newlands playing area again raised questions and 240 is a better total than it appears. There was a period during the afternoon session, as Samuels and Chanderpaul began a repeat of last week's performance in Port Elizabeth, when South African shoulders started to slump. Trailing in the series it was down to them to force the issue and Graeme Smith spent large parts of the day trying to stir his players into action.
Ntini isn't someone who usually needs much encouragement and when Smith brought him back after tea he lifted spirits. Samuels was providing another example of his new-found diligence at the crease with a 144-ball innings, but was eventually drawn into a push outside off stump and sent an edge through to Mark Boucher. Dwayne Bravo soon followed, another uncertain shot away from the body, this time collected by Jacques Kallis at second slip, as the momentum swayed. Bravo failed twice in Port Elizabeth and his dismissal exposed the lower order, which was unable to cope with Steyn's new-ball burst.
Denesh Ramdin was caught plumb after he was beaten by a full, swinging delivery and a repeat performance made a mess of Rawl Lewis's stumps first ball. Jerome Taylor survived the hat-trick, but Steyn's pace was again too much when he tried to defend a short ball and offered the simplest of return catches. The collapse of 5 for 54 highlighted the value of the earlier graft and West Indies were again indebted to Chanderpaul who steadied the innings following three wickets before lunch.
They overcame the early loss of Daren Ganga, squared up by a beauty from Steyn, to tick along at a healthy rate. Chris Gayle didn't need a second invitation to throw the bat and was in typical stand-and-deliver mode. His running wasn't helped by the hamstring problem which has dogged him since Zimbabwe, but singles were not his main thought as he twice lifted the ball over the boundary.
Smith gave his team their first talking-to at the drinks interval, clearly unimpressed by what he felt was a half-hearted effort from the quicks. The words appeared to have the desired effect and the scoring rate slowed while frustration grew for Runako Morton, who gave his wicket away with a lazy drive straight to mid-off as Kallis showed his partnership-breaking skills with another opening-over strike. A tight spell from Andre Nel was rewarded with the key wicket of Gayle, edging low to gully without any footwork where Neil McKenzie, recalled after three-and-half-years to replace Herschelle Gibbs, clung onto an excellent catch to his right.
The stand between Samuels and Chanderpaul spanned 42 overs and once the hardness disappeared from the new ball it became a war of attrition as 77 runs came during the afternoon session. Samuels took 28 balls to open his account, although still pulled out a couple of piercing drives when the ball was overpitched, and offered a tough chance, on 2, when he chipped a return catch high to Ntini's right in his follow through.
Chanderpaul, too, didn't set pulses - or the scoring rate - racing and in his first 101 balls managed one boundary. However, shortly before tea he took consecutive fours off Paul Harris, who bowled a 19-over spell split by tea, as the earlier hard work began to bring rewards. His technique is perfectly suited to conditions that call for grinding with the ball not coming onto the bat. After the middle-order slump his presence became even more important for West Indies as he registered another half century off 184 balls.
His job is to eke out as many as he can from the last two wickets before the West Indies bowlers are given a chance. South Africa struggled in both innings on a friendlier surface in Port Elizabeth and only when they have had a turn will their chances of levelling the series become clear.