THE twilight and night time batting conditions proved to be too much for the batsmen on both sides as 13 wickets fell – 9 of them in the final session – on the opening day of the one-off Sunfoil Test match between the Standard Bank Proteas and Zimbabwe at St. George’s Park on Wednesday. The Proteas scored 96/2 in the first session and 155 in the second before a collapse set in that saw them finish on 309/9 before stand-in captain AB de Villiers made the obvious tactical decision to declare and by the close the visitors were on the ropes at 30/4 from 16 overs with Morne Morkel having taken 3/20 in 7 overs and Vernon Philander 1/5 in six. Generally the Proteas will be happy with their first day of the Test match season although they would have preferred some of the starts by their batsmen being turned into something more substantial. But there was the extenuating factor of a well-grassed pitch and a slow surface that made life difficult throughout the day. The one major setback was the apparent hamstring injury suffered by Quinton de Kock that hampered his running between the wickets and caused him not to take the field with De Villiers standing in behind the stumps. The exception to the Proteas batting effort was Aiden Markram whose international career goes from strength to strength. In making his second Test match century (125 off 204 balls, 14 fours and 2 sixes) he took his Test match aggregate to 380 from only four innings, giving him an average in excess of 90. There will obviously be tougher times ahead but he has done enough to suggest he will be comfortably up for the challenge. And his opening partnership with Dean Elgar (stands of 196, 243 and today’s 72 in their three first innings together) suggests that they will play a crucial role in the series against India and Australia. One of the standout features of Markram’s game is his strength off the back foot and it is this aspect of his game that is going to be important when the really quick men from Australia arrive in town. De Villiers marked his return to Test cricket with a rapid-fire half-century (53 off 65 balls, 5 fours and a six) to give the innings some early impetus and it was good to see the positive way that Markram and Temba Bavuma continued to lift the scoring rate after the stand-in captain’s departure. After Markram and De Villiers had add 96 for the third wicket in 22 overs Markram and Bavuma added a further 78 for the fourth in 19 overs. Markram’s dismissal in the over leading into the dinner break was the start of the collapse that was to follow with the two sides between them losing 10 wickets for 88 runs.