Ruan De Swardt to the rescue after Proteas batting fails to fire in NZ

13 February 2024 - 08:15
By Stuart Hess
Ruan de Swardt scored his maiden Test half-century on the opening day of the second Test in Hamilton on Tuesday.
Image: Hannah Peters/Getty Images Ruan de Swardt scored his maiden Test half-century on the opening day of the second Test in Hamilton on Tuesday.

Another lousy day of batting for South Africa in Hamilton saw Zubayr Hamza and Keegan Petersen’s chances of consideration for future selection dwindle further.

It took a well crafted and gritty half-century from Ruan de Swardt and a gutsy 34 not out from 37-year-old debutant Shaun von Berg to provide the Proteas with a foothold in the second Test, with the tourists finishing the first day on 220/6.

Their partnership of 70 frustrated New Zealand in the final session, particularly in the last half-hour as they pushed for a breakthrough with the second new ball. However 26-year-old De Swardt was solid in defence and when provided with any width outside his off stump, drove the ball smoothly, to bring up a first Test half-century, finishing the day on 55 not out. 

De Swardt was understandably pleased with his effort, and felt he and Von Berg could push on for more on Wednesday. “It was quite hard graft,” said De Swardt. “It was nice to put the team in a good position. From where we were, we are not unhappy at the moment. There is still quite a bit in the wicket and if we can get to 300, we are definitely in with a chance.” 

De Swardt arrived at the crease with the Proteas in trouble on 101/5, midway through the afternoon session, with the tourists unable to free themselves from a vice-like grip New Zealand held them in. 

Neil Brand, once more chose to bat, a decision influenced by a surface that, despite the green tinge on top, was dry and the Proteas choice of two spinners — Dane Piedt and Von Berg. Both those changes had been promised by Shukri Conrad and Brand, after the seamers provided little pressure or penetration in the first Test. The tourists would have been encouraged by Rachin Ravindra’s success — maybe not the gifts handed to him by Hamza and Petersen — but the fact he got a lot of turn off the day one surface, in a lengthy couple of spells that eventually totalled 21 overs. 

We didn’t expect it to spin so much on day one. So with runs on the board, it’s really good for us. We need to keep fighting and stay in contention
Ruan de Swardt

If South Africa can somehow drag the game into the fourth and fifth day, Von Berg and Piedt may yet play a big role. However for that to happen, they will need the top-order batters to come to the party and play with far better application than was the case on Tuesday. 

Ed Moore and Duanne Olivier were the two players axed, with Clyde Fortuin moved up to opener. It was an experiment which didn’t work with Fortuin dismissed first ball driving recklessly at Matt Henry. Nevertheless it was an excellent low catch at gully by Glenn Phillips who had to move swiftly to his left and hung onto the ball with one hand. 

Brand may feel a bit unlucky with his lbw dismissal, which handed Will O’Rourke his maiden Test wicket on debut. Given out by on-field umpire Richard Illingworth, Brand understandably sent the decision for review, with the replays indicating the ball only just clipping the top of the bail. 

Raynard van Tonder was out shortly before lunch, casually guiding a ‘nothing ball’ from Neil Wagner, who along with O’Rourke and Will Young, was one of three changes to the Black Caps side that won the first Test, to Tom Latham in the gully. 

Then came Hamza, who reached 20, having faced 98 balls, but never looked settled, neither defending nor showing much intent to attack. That overall confusion led to his dismissal against the 99th ball he faced, as an ugly hoick across the line saw him sky the ball towards backward point. 

Petersen faced just six balls and made two before driving at a Ravindra delivery that spun and caught outside edge allowing Southee to complete a good catch at slip. Hamza and Petersen were seen as two crucial players in this inexperienced Proteas team, with the opportunity to push for selection for the Proteas even when the front-line players return later in the year. Instead of taking the chances, they have strengthened the case for them not to be considered and the likes of Ryan Rickelton and Tristan Stubbs won’t be feeling threatened. 

David Bedingham was extremely unfortunate. Having put in a lot of hard work during the middle session, just as he started to accelerate after tea, striking a couple of delightful drives, he was dismissed — caught at short leg after the ball deflected off his shoe. That gave Ravindra a third wicket and at 150/6, New Zealand would have been eyeing the opportunity to bat in the final session. 

However the determination from De Swardt and Von Berg ensured that would not be the case. “We didn’t expect it to spin so much on day one. So with runs on the board, it’s really good for us. We need to keep fighting and stay in contention,” said De Swardt.