Sometimes the hardest thing about doing anything is simply getting started at all, and in Test Cricket even seasoned Test veterans will probably tell you that their first one was probably the toughest.
It’s a cut-throat business, playing against a calibre of player who are better, faster and stronger than any you’ve ever faced in your career, with a crowd and audience larger than any you’ve ever experience before and, to top it all off, you’re expected to perform above all expectations. In short, good luck.
So as Rory Kleinveldt marked out his run to begin his first over in Test Cricket, you can only imagine what was going through his head. Nerves, memories, perhaps the memory of the kind words of the well-wishers, supporters and coaches down the years who have helped him reach that point so far. Perhaps it was the words of his fellow bowlers, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, both of whom experienced debuts of very differing success.
Earlier in the day, he had enjoyed himself, hitting a couple of sixes and enjoying the creative liberties which are generally afforded bowlers who can hit a long ball, but by contrast, this was the serious business was getting started. His side were on-top, their opposition three wickets down, and the onus was on him to keep up the pressure and perhaps even chip in with a wicket or two.
Sometimes debuts can go like that, Graeme Swann took two wickets in his first over in Test Cricket, Damien Fleming got a hat-trick on his debut, Sajid Mahmood grabbed three quick wickets in fading light against Sri Lanka (at least one a full toss). As Mark Nicholas would call it “the wheel of fortune turned in their favour”.
The batsman facing him was hardly the most daunting. Ed Cowan will hardly go down as one of cricket’s great intimidators. If it was David Warner or Ricky Ponting who was marking their guard then perhaps you could forgive some real nerves. And so as he started on his run, more a gentle amble than a Holding-esque pelt into the wicket, and then turned over his arm, with a fast arm action and unleashed the first ball of his Test career and promptly earned his first ever dot ball in Test cricket. Deep breath, back to your mark, repeat.
In truth, this was about as good as it got. His next ball was a no ball, his fourth was his first boundary conceded, his fifth was his second boundary conceded. His seventh and eighth brought the same results, his twentieth was a boundary, a no ball and a first glare from the captain while his twenty-second was his last ball of the day.
His first spell in Test cricket finished with figures of three overs, twenty seven runs conceded, zero wickets, zero maidens, five fours, four no balls and one glare from the skipper. As starts go, it wasn’t quite on the nightmare-ish levels of Bryce McGain, Gavin Hamilton or Mick Lewis but it made for difficult viewing, except for those who have sung “Waltzing Matilda”.
But, for Rory, there was probably a sense of relief. It was over, the Test debut was out of his system, and while it was a tough first day at the office, it was one day more than before. And he will watch it back, reflect that he was too short, too wide, too often. He made both Cowan and Clarke look like Adam Gilchrist and Mark Waugh.
If this was Twenty20, he’d almost be out of chances, three overs means one to go, but part of the beauty of Test cricket is that players get the time to adapt and perhaps recover once or twice in a single match. Tomorrow is another day, and maybe the day that Rory Kleinveldt’s Test career really begins.