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Just when you thought the Proteas were unshackling themselves from their recent batting woes the old ghosts returned to spook them, allowing the West Indies a path back into the first Test on Tuesday.

SA were cruising at tea on 206/1, with Aiden Markram completing a sixth Test century shortly after the interval and the debutant, Tony de Zorzi, growing increasingly confident.

The West Indies had looked disinterested throughout the first two sessions, as if disappointed that they didn’t get a chance to bat first after Temba Bavuma had won the toss.

But a sterling fightback, led by an inspired Alzarri Joseph and a bad runout involving De Zorzi, caused the Proteas to surrender a dominant position. By stumps they were 314/8.

By recent standards that total is good — it’s the first time they have reached 300 in a completed innings since Lord’s last year. However, Batting collapses, as Tuesday showed, remain a trend.

With Markram and former captain Dean Elgar providing just the third century stand for the first wicket in the past year, the optimism about the new brand that Bavuma and Shukri Conrad have been talking about seemed justified.

Elgar, who last batted in the Sydney Test six weeks ago, looked fidgety but the West Indies’ bowling in the morning was too inconsistent to build pressure. Markram was in fine fettle, driving well and generally appeared at ease.

Elgar would eventually find his feet, registering a first Test half-century in 11 innings. After lunch Elgar was feeling so good about himself he was unfurling ramp shots as if in search of a T20 contract. He got carried away with the stroke, didn’t realise that Jermaine Blackwood — who had dropped him earlier on 10 — had been posted to a fine third man, and offered him a catch that the West Indies fielder did well to hold on to.

Sparkling play

De Zorzi’s was an innings that started with two outside edges for four and included a glorious flowing cover drive off Shannon Gabriel. He too looked comfortable, playing well in support of Markram, who went to his first Test century in two years, raising his bat to accept the applause of an understandably sparse crowd.

Markram had unleashed his full array of sparkling stroke play, pressing SA’s innings ahead at a scoring rate of almost four an over, which would have pleased Conrad, who is preaching a more positive approach with the bat in the national team, and for those at domestic level looking to win a place in the Test side.

The tone of the day changed 20 minutes after tea, and it was all down to De Zorzi’s inattentive running. Pushing for a third run, he failed to look at Markram and had to put the brakes on midpitch, switched his bat from his right to his left hand, but quick work from West Indies wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva to pass an errant throw onto the stumps caught De Zorzi centimetres short of his ground.

The wicket energised the West Indies and Joseph in particular. He trapped Bavuma lbw second ball, a delivery that did not appear to move much but beat Bavuma for pace.

Three overs later he got Markram with a magnificent 145km/h yorker that even someone who had batted for more than four-and-a-half hours as Markram had, could not catch up to. As disappointed as Markram was to get out, especially at that stage, his 115 continued the latest revival of the career of one of the most talented batters this country has produced.

Mistiming pull

Three weeks ago, he made a century in the semifinal of the SA20 at this venue to help guide his Sunrisers Eastern Cape to the final of that tournament. Those were a pivotal few weeks, which had helped to make up Conrad’s mind about restoring him to the Test side.

The West Indies by that stage were more focused than at any point during the day. Heinrich Klaasen made a quick-fire 20 before mistiming a pull against Shannon Gabriel. Senuran Muthusamy did not offer a shot to Kemar Roach and was given out lbw. The Proteas lost 5/50 in 13.3 overs.

Muthusamy was one of five changes to the Proteas starting XI, from the side that was lucky to hold on for a draw in Sydney. De Zorzi and Gerald Coetzee made debuts — the former somewhat surprisingly — while Muthusamy’s presence too is a little strange.

He is certainly not a better bowler than Keshav Maharaj, and with the Proteas wanting to have a slightly longer batting line-up, it seems it is his batting that has earned him the nod. Whether a first-class average of 31.16 justifies that selection remains to be seen.

For now the Proteas will hope the tail can scrape together enough runs to allow the bowlers to target some areas on the pitch, which occasionally demonstrated inconsistent bounce on the first day.

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