After an early rattle, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers put on a record-breaking partnership to put South Africa in charge, racking up 340-3 on day one against the West Indies in Centurion. It was the kind of performance that was expected of South Africa and while there is still a long way to go, the Windies are looking even more listless than first anticipated. By ANTOINETE MULLER.
Imagine being a bowler in the opposition facing South Africa today. Even if three quick wickets fall, you’re still in for a heck of a challenge with the rest of the batsmen to come. That’s exactly what it was like for the West Indies on day one of the first Test at Centurion on Wednesday.
Winning the toss and choosing to bowl first under the cloudy skies, the opening pair of Jerome Taylor and Sheldon Cottrell got off to a wayward start. With lines and lengths all over the place, especially from Cottrell’s awkward action, the South African openers raced along at over five runs an over for the first ten overs.
Dean Elgar channelled Graeme Smith, looking like every run scored was laboured, while Alviro Petersen looked at ease, as if playing a video game. Then, perhaps typically, Petersen got himself out before making any real impact. The dismissal, perfectly orchestrated by Kemar Roach, scraped the edge and was plucked out of the air in the slip cordon.
Having scored just 27, Petersen’s struggle for form continues. He is starting to make a career out of being dismissed for under 29 runs. It has happened 36 times in his 61 Test innings. While that is not the worst record comparatively – it’s happened to Hashim Amla 67 times in 138 innings and to AB de Villiers 69 times out of 160 innings – it is concerning since Petersen is still struggling for form. He has not scored a century since the 2013 New Year’s Test against New Zealand and has managed just two half centuries since. Luckily for Petersen, he was not the only one to falter early on. A loose shot from Dean Elgar ended his stay at the crease for 28 and Faf du Plessis soon followed, scoring a duck. The introduction of Kemar Roach, whose figures from his first spell read 6-3-16-2, seemed to shake South Africa.
But, the best was yet to come. Hashim Amla, slotted down the order one spot, and AB de Villiers combined for a record partnership, one which will continue on Thursday morning.
There was some poetry in De Villier’s knock. He’d made his debut against England exactly ten years ago to the day and he’s not missed a Test since then. In the final match of that series, De Villiers scored a ton on this very ground, his home turf since he was a youngster. The modest crowd appreciated his effort this time too.
As far as batting tandems go, De Villiers and Amla make the perfect combination. Amla is calm and reserved. De Villiers is audacious, but never brash or risky. Together, they are fast becoming one of South Africa’s most reliable batting pairs.
While both Amla and De Villiers deserve to be lauded, the West Indies bowling was nothing short of rubbish. On a surface with just a little bit in it for the bowlers, it looked as if the visitors had not done one ounce of their homework. When plans of bowling too full failed, they had no plan B to fall back on.
To add salt, and perhaps a splash of vinegar, to their wounds, Roach was escorted off the field in the 68th over. If the bowling was bad with him still on the field, it was in for a complete disintegration soon after.
Amla and De Villiers went on to notch up their highest partnership for batting together and then the highest for the fourth wicket partnership without so much as a stifled appeal or “ooh” from the fielding side. Apart from one. Early on in Amla’s innings, when Roach was still on the field, a ball whizzed past his stumps, gently touching them, but not dislodging the bails. That kind of misfortune summed up just how torrid a day the Windies were having.
If one were to nit-pick, the only criticism of the Amla – de Villiers partnership is that the running isn’t as sharp as it should be. There is no need for outlandish risk, but not once did the pair manage to run three between the sticks. It’s hardly a flaw, since they are perfectly capable of accumulating their runs in other ways, but it’s something that could make a big difference.
While the experienced duo went about their business like it’s the easiest thing in the world, a certain rookie was watching anxiously from the dressing room. Having been handed his cap by JP Duminy earlier in the day, Stiaan van Zyl was padded up since 12:14. Always due to make his debut in this Test, Van Zyl spent most of Tuesday night waking up at random intervals in anticipation of his debut.
On Wednesday night, he can rest a little bit easier knowing that the toughest job has been done. When he eventually walks to the wicket, he will be allowed to just play his natural game. That is the luxury of being in the team with such immensely talented players and having them do all the hard work. DM
South Africa: 340-3: AB de Villiers 141* (211), Hashim Amla 133* (242); Kemar Roach 15.5-4-52-2
Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla celebrates reaching his century as he is watched by teammate AB de Villiers (L) during the third cricket test match at Lord’s in London August 19, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown