Will spin decide final test?
The New Zealand strategy of trying to secure a draw during the second test in Wellington and then have a shootout in a series decider next week in Hamilton came unstuck in no uncertain terms.
It was clear from their team selection that the Kiwis didn't believe they could win the second test match in Wellington under the conditions that prevailed there. Instead of selecting a third-strike bowler they opted for two all-rounders in an attempt to lengthen their batting.
Their approach was a negative one and this safety-first policy cost them dearly. The strategy backfired against a Proteas team who bowled exceptionally well during this encounter.
The surprise package in the South African bowling line up on this tour so far has been Keshav Maharaj. He came into the South African test team last November against Australia. At that time the Proteas were crying out for a spinner of international quality. Maharaj impressed against Australia and subsequently against Sri Lanka as well.
On this tour he has really come into his own and established himself as the No 1 test spinner. He had an impact already during the first test match in Dunedin where he got his first five-wicket haul. His performance during that match was consistent and impressive.
During the second test here in Wellington he bowled brilliantly. Maharaj is doing exactly the job he is being selected for. In the first innings he bowls very economically and ties down one end. This allows Faf du Plessis the luxury of using his quicker bowlers in short spells.
Not only does Maharaj control things well as far as the run rate is concerned in the first innings of a test but he picks up key wickets as well. There was a question mark over his ability to bowl the Proteas to a win in the second innings of the test on a turning pitch.
He answered that question with a superb display of attacking spin bowling in the second innings when he ripped through the New Zealand batting line up. He produced a career-best performance and his six-wicket haul was well deserved.
Add the four wickets that JP Duminy got in the first innings to Maharaj's tally of eight during the test match and it is clear that for now the Proteas have no concerns in the spinning department.
In fact, it has given the Black Caps food for thought. They have made it quite clear that they want to produce a turning pitch for the last test match in Hamilton. We saw during the one-day series that the pitch does turn in Hamilton.
The issue for the Kiwi's is that their batsmen are having all sorts of difficulty with the South African spinners. Much more so than the South African batsmen are having with the Kiwi spinners.
Unless the New Zealand batsmen come up with a formula of playing the South African spinners better, they take a huge risk in preparing a turning surface for the final test match. The Kiwis need a win in Hamilton. They are under pressure to square the series in the deciding test.
The only slight concern for the Proteas is the form of Steven Cook. He has battled on this tour so far. I would imagine that the selectors will give him another opportunity in Hamilton. Cook' s technical deficiencies have been exploited well by the New Zealand opening bowlers who know exactly where to bowl to him.
He was under pressure on the previous tour of Australia as well. He came back strongly in the last test match against Australia in Adelaide when he got a century in the second innings. Theunis de Bruyn is the spare batsman in the squad and there will be some thought given to playing him at the top order in the last test. The selectors will more than likely give Cook another opportunity. They will be reluctant to change a winning formula.
The Kiwis on the other hand are calling for wholesale changes. They don't have a lot of reserve strength to call on so they are in a difficult position. It will take a special effort for them to even the series in Hamilton. They look short on confidence and I don't think they have the belief to beat a strong South African test team in an all-or-nothing game for them.
My feeling is that Faf du Plessis will lead South Africa to another test series win next week. A two-nil series win will be a good effort and top off a very successful few months for the Proteas.