DURBAN – South Africa ended the second day of the first Test against Sri Lanka 170 runs ahead, and with six second innings wickets in hand.
Slow surface or not, this opening Test is rattling along at a fair old rate.
The headline act on Day 2 was Dale Steyn, who drew level with England’s Stuart Broad on the all-time list for wicket-takers in Test cricket.
Steyn ended with figures of 4/48 in 20 overs, including a spell of 10 overs on the spin.
“It’s hard, hey. But anyway, that’s just how it is,” he said of the marathon spell that saw him get to 437 Test scalps. “When I am bowling 10-over spells, it shows that I am enjoying doing what I do. I could take the easy option; take 4/30 and go and stand at fine-leg, and say, ‘someone else do it’.
“But it’s fun. It’s fun bowling, it’s fun taking wickets and it’s fun hitting guys on the head,” Steyn smiled.
It is one of a handful of occasions that he has bowled for that long in a spell, but his pace and aggression never relented. And accordingly, his skipper Faf du Plessis stopped asking if he was okay to carry on after doing so at the end of his sixth over.
Sometimes you have to let the great ones write their own rules.
“It feels like I have started over again, since breaking (Shaun Pollock) Polly’s record,” he said of his record-breaking numbers.
He didn’t even flinch when Dean Elgar grassed a straightforward chance at gully which would have handed him a 27th five-wicket haul – and his first since August 2016 against New Zealand.
“Test cricket is hard. Nothing should come easy. ‘Fifers’ shouldn’t come easy, and no catch is easy, either. It doesn’t matter how easy people make them out to be. We will just try again in the second innings,” he smiled.
The enjoyment of these days, when even Steyn himself admits to not knowing when they will end, is clear on his face. Tired as he was, he was still beaming, and fully engrossed in the challenge at hand. South Africa may yet get considerably more mileage out of their classic sports car at the top of the speed charts.
Steyn also paid tribute to Sri Lanka’s resolve, because it would have been easy for the tourists to step towards square-leg, and let the Steyn train charge through them. Instead, they took it on the body, and scraped, sliced and bunted their way to 191, giving South Africa a lead of 44.
It could easily have been 80-odd, if they didn’t show character. But there they stood, with Kusal Perera digging out a feisty 51, and Dhananjaya De Silva (23) and Lasith Embuldeniya adding a characterful 24 to the cause in the tail.
Steyn warned that South Africa would have to step it up on the middle day of the Test. They are far from secure, and they need at least one significant partnership to reach a point of comfort against gutsy opposition.
“We are going to have to bring our A-game. Day 3 is always a very, very crucial day.”
Despite being two days old, the game is already in its third dig. It is motoring along, but Steyn added that they were prepared to take the long road to victory.
"Let’s start with a good partnership and then try and build it from there. We have only played two days of cricket. If we are willing to play five days of cricket, we will do well,” he pointed out.
Du Plessis (25 not out) and first innings mainstay Quinton de Kock on 15 will resume on the third morning, trying to bring some normality to a frenetic match.
A lot has happened in just two days.
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