Batsmen have a good time

The pitch was as dead as a dodo and the bowlers couldn't make it do their bidding. The batsmen dropped anchor and the only way the Test could end was in a draw.

Stephen Fleming chose a stubborn Newlands pitch that simply refused to live up to expectations, neither offering dangerous movement nor turn, to summon the Fleming of yore. Graeme Smith chose the same strip to baffle all and sundry, when he sent New Zealand in to bat, which subsequently sent his team on a leather hunt. Matches like these, brimming with 500 plus runs from both sides, rarely smell of results. Both sides missed a bowler who could coax some life out of these conditions, though Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn bowled their hearts out.

Once hopes of a result dried out, the Test was all about runs, runs and a few more runs. More than anything else, what the Test did was to help Fleming dismount a gorilla off his back, justify the South Africans' selection of Hashim Amla ahead of Herschelle Gibbs, and showcase two gems from Ashwell Prince and James Franklin.

Fleming's career was all about the classic left-hander, who somewhere down the line, couldn't fathom the art of converting fifties into hundreds. This was his ninth century in his 101st Test. Not too flaterring for someone who has 41 fifties. Mark Richardson, delightfully summarising Fleming's number game said, "from 0-30 Fleming looks a reasonable player, from 30-50 he looks classy, from 50-70 he looks composed, from 70-100 he looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders, and from 100 he looks as one with the intricacies of the art of run scoring."

Fleming's 262 was left-handed elegance at its cover-driving best. The sight of his shots repelling the offside fielders was one to behold. "Personally, I'm pretty satisfied. Unfortunately as a batsman you're marked on the number of hundreds you've scored and I haven't been that good at converting them over a long period of time. It's got to the stage now that, every time I go past 50 I almost feel more pressure. So it's a nice feeling," said the Kiwi captain.

Along with James Franklin — whose maiden century was studded with class and shaking off body- numbing, bruising deliveries from Makhaya Ntini — he put on a 256-run partnership, the highest for New Zealand against South Africa. If it weren't for a pair of stubborn bats handled with discipline by Hashim Amla and Ashwell Prince, dodgy weather and light, and the Kiwis' late declaration, Fleming's might have just been a match-winning knock.

"I needed everything I could get. I probably needed more. The follow-on was our only real chance. We had to bowl South Africa out twice. When you commit to that you have to get enough cash in the bank," said Fleming on the timing of his declaration.

With South Africa at 108 for two, Amla and Jacques Kallis did their defending and grinding bit in making sure they inched closer to the 394-run mark, to avoid the follow-on. Amla's wristy 149 might not silence talks of his footwork or his ability to handle chin music, but it made sure he would get another chance to display his temperament, more than anything else, at the Wanderers.

"When I'm batting, I try to concentrate on what I'm doing and stay as calm as I can. I always try to keep it simple. I hope it will be a long Test career, and maybe if I can score 50 centuries in my career, no one will question my technique," said Amla after the century. Kiwi shoulders drooped once the chances of enforcing a follow-on slowly ebbed. After that, a feeling of inevitability crawled into the Test. Ashwell Prince's determined century and then Scott Styris' fifty made sure the Test moved, rather than meandered, towards a draw.

Never short of words, Graeme Smith tried covering up for his decision, by questioning Fleming's decision to delay the declaration. "They went past a point of having to make a game of it, they had to try and make us follow on," he said. Both teams' bowlers, given the cold shoulder by pitch, couldn't do much. Debutant Jeetan Patel, coming in for Kyle Mills, did his best, regularly flighting the ball, but lacked the experience and venom to bowl on such pitches.

Daniel Vettori was below his best. Ntini bowled with fire, so did Steyn who was more accurate in the brief second innings, than the first, but the South African fielding and field placements left much to be desired. This was just not the Test match to be a bowler.

THE SCORES

Second Test, South Africa v New Zealand, Cape Town, April 27-May 1, 2006.

New Zealand — 1st innings: M. Papps b Nel 22; P. Fulton c Boucher b Steyn 36; S. Fleming b Prince 262; S. Styris c Dippenaar b Ntini 11; N. Astle lbw b Ntini 50; J. Oram (run out) 13; B. McCullum lbw b Ntini 5; D. Vettori c Nel b Ntini 11; J. Franklin (not out) 122; J. Patel (not out) 27; Extras (b-3, lb-15, w-1, nb-15) 34. Total (for eight wkts., decl.) 593.

Fall of wkts: 1-50, 2-62, 3-82, 4-188, 5-237, 6-259, 7-279, 8-535.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 43-5-162-4; Steyn 31-4-114-1; Nel 27-3-98-1; Kallis 15-4-45-0; Boje 29-4-89-0; Smith 17-2-61-0; Amla 1-0-4-0; Prince 2-0-2-1.

South Africa — 1st innings: G. Smith c & b Patel 25; H. Dippenaar b Patel 47; H. Amla lbw b Vettori 149; J. Kallis c Martin b Oram 71; A. Prince (not out) 108; A. de Villiers c Papps b Patel 13; M. Boucher c Fleming b Franklin 33; N. Boje lbw b Franklin 0; A. Nel lbw b Franklin 12; D. Steyn st. McCullum b Vettori 13; M. Ntini (run out) 11; Extras (b-15, lb-10, nb-5) 30. Total: 512.

Fall of wkts: 1-36, 2-108, 3-252, 4-344, 5-361, 6-435, 7-435, 8-462, 9-495.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 20-7-62-0; Franklin 33-5-95-3; Vettori 63-10-147-2; Patel 42-8-117-3; Styris 10-2-33-0; Oram 18-10-24-1; Astle 2-0-9-0.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: M. Papps c Prince b Steyn 20; P. Fulton c Kallis b Ntini 11; S. Styris (not out) 54; N. Astle c Smith b Kallis 14; J. Oram (not out) 8; Extras (b-1, lb-9, nb-4) 14. Total (for three wkts.) 121.

Fall of wkts: 1-34, 2-41, 3-81.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 9-3-26-1; Ntini 8-2-25-1; Nel 10-2-41-0; Kallis 5-3-5-1; Boje 5-1-14-0.

A Special Correspondent