Wiaan Mulder provides the spark for Proteas on dominant opening day
By Stuart Hess 8m ago
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JOHANNESBURG – Wiaan Mulder seems to be many things to many people, except being Wiaan Mulder.
From Kallis, to Philander and then Klusener, Mulder is potentially the new version of something that once worked very well for South Africa previously.
He must be one hell of a cricketer, if at 22, playing just his third Test, he’s reminding so many folks of that many good players.
Most famously – and most unfairly – Mulder had started his professional career, immediately being compared to Jacques Kallis. No one needs that least of all an 18 year old matriculant, just trying to make the leap from school cricket to the professional game. ‘Baby Kallis’ ran the moniker – he batted in the top 5, could bowl 15 overs in a day and was brilliant in the slips. “If he has a career half as good as Kallis, he’ll be a heck of a player,” one CSA development official once chirped. True. But…
The problem, understandably, for the teenage Mulder was that he desperately tried to live up that nickname. It was impossible. He struggled physically and mentally, not helped by then being thrust into the national spotlight by former Proteas coach Ottis Gibson, who gave him his international debut in 2017, just one year after he’d played his first senior professional match.
It’s taken injury and time away from the game for Mulder to unburden himself of those Kallis comparisons. And this season – shortened though it has been because of the pandemic – he seems to be playing his cricket the way Wiaan Mulder must.
On the first day here Sunday, it was Mulder, who set the tone for the home team with the ball. Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Lutho Sipamla, initially allowed themselves to be distracted by Kusal Perera’s almost speculative method of batting. The left-hander wasn’t intent on settling in and getting a ‘feel’ for the conditions, instead he took what could generously be described as some calculated risks to try and revert pressure.
Perera might argue it was better than bobbing, weaving, nudging and nurdling like his skipper Dimuth Karunaratne was trying to do. Karunaratne lasted 47 minutes, faced 32 balls, made two, never looked comfortable and then gloved a lifter from Anrich Nortje to Quinton de Kock.
Not interested in copping that sort of barrage, Perera threw his bat at anything full, propelling the ball to the boundary on 11 occasions.
It took Mulder to rip the initiative from Perera’s grasp. His first over was a maiden, with Perera, needing to be watchful against deliveries on off-stump, that moved both ways off the seam. ‘Vern-esk (sic)’ was how Rory Kleinveldt, who played four Tests, described it on twitter. The first ball of Mulder’s next over wobbled away from Perera again, he reached for it, and edged the ball to Aiden Markram at third slip.
Perera scored 60, and his dismissal, combined with that of Kusal Mendis four balls later, changed the course of the innings. A third wicket followed for Mulder, that of Lahiru Thirimanne, which took the teams to lunch, with Sri Lanka having slumped from 71/1 to 84/5 in the space of 24 balls. At the interval the 22 year old had the eye-catching figures of 3-2-1-3.
Mulder, who eventually finished with 3/25 from seven overs, had shown the rest of the attack the way and it was Nortje that benefited the most. Instead of overdoing the bouncer – as had been the case in the first session – he sought out a fuller length more often, found some movement and got a whole lot of edges in the process.
His 6/56, a career best effort, and the second ‘five-fer’ in his eighth Test, was reward for making the necessary adjustments.
However, having performed so well with the ball in the first Test too, Mulder, for someone classified as a ‘batting all-rounder,’ is setting a damn fine example with his ‘secondary skill.’ South Africa is grateful for it, and grateful for Mulder being Mulder and no one else.