Saturday, March 2, 2024

Benn strikes five


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A HARD SECOND day’s play for both sides in the first Digicel Test cricket match ended with Mark Boucher’s dismissal that concluded the South Africa innings at 352.
Dwayne Bravo claimed him via a running catch on the long-off boundary by Nelon Pascal. But the top scorer’s innings of 69, spread over 173 minutes and containing four fours and one six, was the only one not to fall to spin.
Indeed, Sulieman Benn’s second five-wicket haul in Tests (47-9-120-5) and Shane Shillingford’s three wickets on debut (35-4-96-3) should have been the outstanding story of this day.
But the South African total has placed Graeme Smith’s side, not Chris Gayle’s men, in the ascendency heading into Day 3.
With a pat on the back and a smile on his face, Gayle ushered big Benn off the field ahead of the rest of his side – no premature dismissal needed this time.
For Benn had responded to his public dressing down and fining for insubordination in the penultimate match of the One-Day series preceding this Test, with a lion-hearted display.
He and Shillingford fully justified the decision to play them both. But not even their combined eight wickets and impressive bowling could change everything for West Indies.
Coming in at No.8, Boucher, the veteran wicketkeeper/batsman, and fast bowler Dale Steyn (39, four fours, two sixes) put on 86 runs for the eighth wicket, comfortably surviving even the taking of the second new ball (107th over).
The game got away from the Windies in this period. Maybe permanently.
That stand had built upon the century partnership between A.B. de Villiers and Ashwell Prince that had kept South Africa going earlier on a tough day.
The Twenty20 aficionado would have been fighting sleep hard, right through the three sessions yesterday.
Just 94 of the 282 runs scored in 95 overs came through boundaries.
But the purists – of which there were a couple of hundreds in attendance – would have appreciated that the South African batsmen earned their pay and every one of those runs.
It took patience and determination to succeed on this Oval strip against a West Indies attack which manfully stuck to their task. It was gritty stuff.
But Proteas captain Smith would have had no complaints about the work of de Villiers and Ashwell Prince and later Boucher and Steyn.
They produced two partnerships which prevented the West Indies’ new spin duo from restricting the visitors to a significantly lower total.
The best play is not always pretty. But de Villiers and Prince in particular did the hard work after coming together with South Africa at the crossroads with the total on 107 for five.
After South Africa resuming today from the overnight position of 70 for three, Shillingford and Benn removed overnight batsmen Jacques Kallis (28) and Paul Harris (ten), respectively, in an extended first session because of the time lost to rain on the first day.
The two tall slow bowlers, looking more like the fast men of the West Indies’ all-conquering past, had taken charge in their own way.
Their control of length was immaculate. And the height from which the two six-footers delivered made negotiating them difficult.
Kallis and Harris could find no consistent way to throw the big men off – not by sweeping, nor by trying to advance to the bowlers.
Eventually, Harris sliced an attempted cut to Shillingford at cover and Kallis moved too far across to the off-side to a big turner and was lbw. He challenged the decision unsuccessfully via the umpires’ review system.
Prince and de Villiers were faced with similar problems. But they played the patience game and kept the scoreboard moving in a sixth-wicket stand of 122 that stretched well past lunch.
Gayle could not bowl his successful spinners all innings. Shillingford sent down 16 on the trot before he was given a break, and Benn 11.
But the Windies seamers just did not have either the zip or the craft needed on this pitch to get the other wickets. Eventually, it was Gayle himself with his off-spin who broke the stand.
With his first ball of the match, he had Prince (57, 154 minutes, two fours, one six) tucking to Travis Dowlin at forward short-leg.
By tea, taken at 277 for seven, de Villiers (67, 202 minutes, five fours) had also departed, caught by wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin – having an untidy game – off Benn.
But South Africa’s depth in batting cruelly exposed the limitations of Gayle’s attack in the final session.
Benn eventually had Steyn stumped by Ramdin as he sauntered forward seeking to lash a third six off the slow left-armer. And he completed his fiver by having Morne Morkel drag a sweep shot onto his stumps.
The bowler should have been humming Bob Marley’s Redemption Song as he left the ground yesterday. But Boucher and company did not allow him that freedom.


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