After Moreki's magic start, Test reality bites for understrength Proteas

04 February 2024 - 09:00
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Tshepo Moreki took a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket on Sunday
Tshepo Moreki took a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket on Sunday
Image: Joe Allison/Getty Images

The joyous fantasy of a maiden Test wicket with his first ball by Tshepo Moreki was gradually replaced by grim reality as New Zealand ground down the starless Proteas on the opening day of the first Test at the Bay Oval in Mt Maunganui.

The Black Caps, led by centuries from Rachin Ravindra and Kane Williamson, finished on 258/2, a position of strength particularly given they’d been sent in to bat by Neil Brand. 

The South African captain was one of six debutants for the tourists, the highest number for the Proteas since their first Test after isolation in 1992 against India in Durban, which featured 10. 

Another of the debutants, Tshepo Moreki, given the new ball, made a dream start when he trapped Devon Conway lbw with his first ball. Moreki, 30, is the fourth South African to achieve the feat and the 24th in the history of Test cricket. Also on that list is Moreki’s teammate Dane Piedt, who did so 10 years ago. 

Moreki’s wicket was the highlight of an excellent first session for the South Africans in which Dane Paterson, playing his first Test in four years, also claimed the wicket of the other New Zealand opener Tom Latham for 16, giving another debutant, Clyde Fortuin, his first Test catch.

At 39/2 the Proteas would have felt they were on top. South Africa’s bowlers showed excellent discipline on a sluggishly paced pitch through the first two sessions, with Williamson, who has just returned from yet another injury and Ravindra, the breakout star from last year’s World Cup, who is playing in his first Test in two years, forced to be patient through a tough afternoon session. 

In what South African teams of previous generations would have described as an ‘investment session,’ the Black Caps pair scored just 60 runs in 27 overs between lunch and tea and while it made for tough viewing, it was the kind of discipline needed to grind down an opponent, who for all their talk of first class experience, have limited knowledge of the Test format.

The benefits of that investment were reaped in the final session when New Zealand scored 133 runs against a tiring attack. Williamson went to his 30th Test — the 13th player to reach that landmark — with a pull for four off Moreki. 

In the next over, Ravindra completed his maiden Test century, clipping Paterson on the leg-side. In typical New Zealand fashion, neither batter celebrated the landmark with much fanfare, both simply lifting their bats and acknowledging the crowd and their teammates, but there was no elaborate David Warner-style leap. 

The South Africans were also left to rue two missed opportunities offered by both of the Black Caps’ centurions. Williamson in a rare moment of ill-discipline tried to smash Ruan de Swardt’s gentle medium pace over the covers, but got a thick edge which flew to cover where Ed Moore, got himself in a dreadful tangle and dropped the ball with Williamson on 47.

The second chance came in the afternoon session, when Duanne Olivier, who had a poor day with the ball, dropped Ravindra on 80 also off the bowling of an understandably anguished De Swardt, another of the Proteas debutants. Oliver appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball, after Ravindra’s top edge pull, but nevertheless, having dived forward, got both hands to the ball and spilt the opportunity. 

The second new ball brought a few excitable moments — including an edge from Ravindra that flew over second slip off Moreki — but it is New Zealand, who finished the day in firm control of the Test match.

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