Morne Morkel reopened the debate about conditions under floodlights with a devastating spell of fast bowling as South Africa took command on the first day of a four-day, day-night Test against Zimbabwe at St George’s Park on Tuesday.
Aiden Markram hit 125, his second century in three Test matches, as South Africa made 309 for nine declared.
It looked a match-winning total after Morkel ripped out the first three batsmen to leave Zimbabwe reeling on 30 for four. Morkel took three for 20.
Both Markram and Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer said there was a marked difference in conditions for batsmen against the pink ball under lights.
“From twilight onwards it does tend to move around quite a bit, definitely more than this morning,” said Markram, who was dismissed with what proved to be the last ball before the dinner break.
With South Africa losing five wickets for 58 runs after dinner, a total of nine wickets fell for 88 runs in a two-and-a-half hour floodlit session.
Markram gave credit to Zimbabwe for the way they bowled in the evening but admitted: “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise the way it worked out because it’s pretty difficult to bat under lights on that wicket.”
Cremer said he was not too disappointed with his team’s performance.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the score but there were a lot of good balls out there. It’s tough to bat under lights against that attack. I’m sure most teams would have been in that position the way the ball moved around.”
Cremer added: “Even when we bowled, something started happening once the sun went down and the lights came on.”
With South Africa declaring with more than an hour remaining on the first day, Markram said it could become a trend.
“There are going to be tactics around declarations with regards to batting under lights.”
Cremer agreed. “Declaring will play a big part in day-night Tests. Every seam attack will want to bowl at night.”
Cremer said Zimbabwe’s immediate objective was to avoid having the follow-on, which in a four-day Test is 150 runs.
“We will try to make the most of daytime batting so we can bowl at them under lights,” he said.
– Morkel rips through top order –
Morkel trapped Hamilton Masakadza leg before wicket with the first ball of Zimbabwe’s innings, dismissed Chamu Chibhabha for six with the help of a blinding catch by Temba Bavuma at fourth slip and had Brendan Taylor caught behind for the second duck of the innings.
Vernon Philander followed up by trapping Craig Ervine leg before for four.
New cap Ryan Burl showed resolve in batting through to the close on 15 not out.
Opening batsman Markram, 23, continued a dream start to his Test career.
Although he was run out for 97 in his first Test innings against Bangladesh in September, followed by 15 in the second innings, he made 143 in the first innings of his second Test against the same opponents.
Markram made a watchful start on Tuesday against some testing bowling from Zimbabwe new ball pair Kyle Jarvis and new cap Blessing Muzarabani. He took 104 balls to reach fifty but accelerated to post his century off 175 balls with 13 fours and a six. He added another four and a six before falling to the 204th ball of his innings.
There will be tougher challenges for Markram than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe but Tuesday’s innings took his total to 380 runs in his first four Test innings at an average of 95.00.
South Africa were without regular captain Faf du Plessis, who had failed to recover fully from lower back and shoulder injuries, and fast bowler Dale Steyn, whose return from a broken shoulder is now likely to be in the first Test against India, starting in Cape Town on January 5.
De Villiers, making a comeback to Test cricket, made an aggressive 53 off 65 balls.
Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock strained his right hamstring while running between wickets and De Villiers had to take the gloves at the start of the Zimbabwe innings.