Keegan Petersen, Temba Bavuma answer South Africa’s call for batting saviours
Batting was always expected to be a concern for the South Africa team in this series. When compared to the last time they played India at home in 2018, they were missing the most prolific core of their side—stalwarts AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis had retired.
Those fears were proved right in the first Test when SA failed to get 200 in either innings. To be sure, these are tough conditions to bat in. The pitch for the second Test at The Wanderers has offered as much assistance to fast bowlers as the Centurion turf in the opening game last week. And Quinton de Kock’s retirement after the first Test defeat has added to the challenge.
After India struggled to get to 202 after electing to bat, runs were at a premium on the second day of the second Test as well. Yet, the SA batters showed that they had a steely side. Senior pro Temba Bavuma proved his value again with a counter-attacking 51, but the hosts discovered an unlikely hero in Keegan Petersen to take a 27-run first innings lead.
With SA starting the day at 35/1, India’s early focus was on Dean Elgar. After the Mohammed Shami-Jasprit Bumrah first spell, because of his record against left-handed batters, stand-in skipper KL Rahul even got the half-fit Mohammed Siraj to bowl in tandem with off-spinner R Ashwin, almost ignoring the presence of Petersen at the other end. For them, the South Africa captain’s wicket was the key. Petersen played some pretty shots, but he had not shown any staying power. He chose this innings to give notice.
Playing only his fourth Test, the SA No 3 notched his maiden Test half-century to set the foundation for his team’s chase. As stylish players go, it was not just the runs but also the stroke play of the 29-year-old batter that caught the eye.
In search of an early wicket to start the day, both Shami and Bumrah produced searing spells to Elgar and Petersen. The beauty of Petersen’s innings lay in the fact that even though the Indian pacers were on top of their game, he looked unhurried during his knock of 62. Even though he got just 15 and 17 in the two innings of the first Test, he had left an impression with his poise at the crease. Nimble footed, he gets well behind the ball and has the gift of timing. All of that came into relief with nine glorious boundaries all around the turf.
The three boundaries in four balls off Shami, who was clearly in a menacing mood, stood out. With the first he reached his half-century, opening the bat face on the front foot to turn it past backward point; the second was flicked imperiously through midwicket and the third was a breathtaking cover drive. The raucous applause from the home dressing room balcony said it all.
Following in the footsteps of Bavuma, the first specialist black batsman to be selected in the Proteas’ Test team, South Africa cricket has invested heavily in Petersen. He has grinded it out in first-class cricket with 104 games to his name, scoring 6,346 runs, with 16 hundreds. The two batters, however, were left to rue not building on their partnership. In what Sunil Gavaskar described as “half-century syndrome” in commentary, both fell to loose strokes after reaching their 50.
As stroke players go, both are also flashy. Petersen had got a reprieve when on 12 before he let his guard down to finally fall for 62 while going for a drive to a full, swinging ball outside off-stump. Gavaskar’s school of cricket called for it to be left alone.
Bavuma also paid the price for taking it easy after reaching fifty. South Africa’s vice-captain got to his mark with a streaky four to third man area. The next ball, he walked down the pitch to Shardul Thakur, trying to work it away to the leg side and flicked a catch to the wicket-keeper.
Bavuma had walked into bat with his team under pressure at 101/3, and played smart, counter-attacking cricket. He had reached his 50 off just 59 balls with six fours and a six. At 177/5, he had the chance to take control of the game, only to throw it away.
The two batsmen surely would be hurting not to have cashed in. But they will also have the satisfaction that their effort came in an environment where batsmen are being tested every delivery.