South Africa continued their dominance on day two of the first Test against the West Indies: Hashim Amla scored his first double hundred as captain while Stiaan van Zyl made a ton on debut; South Africa declared on 552-5. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
It’s one thing making your Test debut, it’s a another thing making it when the batsmen before you are the best in the world and had just put on a record stand. Then there is also making your Test debut after waiting, eight years exactly, to make the squad. Waiting five months to get your cap. Waiting for the toss on the first day. Waiting since 12:14 on day one to first step out into the middle. Waiting for your first run. It takes a lot of patience, but patience is not simply the ability to wait, it’s how we behave while we wait.
Over the last 48-or-so hours, there was a 27-year old and his parents patiently waiting. On Thursday, Stiaan van Zyl became the first South African to score a hundred on debut at home. The wait, clearly, was worth it. He’d spent most of the night before his debut waking up. Up at 1:00, 2:30 and then 3:30. It was a mix of nerves and excitement, but luckily for the left-hander, some of those nerves settled after all the hard work was done by Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers.
When the wait was eventually over, his nerves were evident. The first few deliveries he faced weren’t exactly that of a textbook southpaw. In fact, he could very well have been out off the first ball he faced when he very nearly lobbed Sulieman Benn straight to the hands of the man at gully. But he survived and lived to fight on.
In one of the suites not far from the press box, Mrs. Van Zyl (of the parental variety) was watching in agony. It took nine balls for him to score his first runs in Test cricket and with every nervous nudge, she would either wince or cross her arms in a different position. When he whipped the ball to deep square leg to get off the mark, some of that tension of waiting was relieved, for her, for the crowd and for the man himself. At the other end, his captain was standing watchfully and as that first run was scored, he walked over to have a word.
“I know it’s just one run, but really well done,” Amla told his batting partner.
Van Zyl said it felt like the best run he’s ever scored; who can blame him?
Knowing he’s new to international cricket, the West Indies had clearly done their homework. They were pressing, pushing, getting Van Zyl to play here and there, trying to make him nervous. But Van Zyl is used to waiting and he waited 74 balls before scoring his first 50. A bat raised to the dressing room and then to his parents acknowledged that the wait was now over. He took just 55 balls to bring up his next 50, the one that would take him to his hundred.
At the other end, through it all, was a familiar face. While Van Zyl was ending a wait, Hashim Amla was more than happy to do so as he went on to score 208 off 371 balls, an innings which lasted for nearly eight hours.
Every session yielded at least 100 runs and lethargy and frustration had started to consume the West Indies. It was evident in the way they fielded and, eventually, in the way they bowled. By the time the time rookie Van Zyl had worked them out, they looked like they wanted to just get it over with. South Africa eventually declared on 552-5 and the first day’s 57-3 looked a long way back. Then, the heavens opened, and once again, there was more waiting. At the close of play press conference, Amla said that the team wanted to get a few overs in against the West Indies before the close of play, but the rain had other plans. Play was abandoned early and there was no time for South Africa’s bowlers to have a dig. According to the captain, South Africa have now done their bit in this Test for now.
But they have also done their bit in making sure there is backup in the pipeline. It says something of the South African system that two debutants, within a few months of each other, had such impressive debuts. A few months ago, against Zimbabwe, Dane Piedt was superb. Now, a few months later, his teammate and childhood friend did the same against the Windies. Sure, these were not the most difficult opponents, but international Test cricket is not a Mickey Mouse task. Yet, both have made it look easy. That both players are from the Cobras is no surprise: Van Zyl credits the culture at his domestic team as well as the influence from those around him as making the transition so easy.
Van Zyl is also realistic about how much time he has spent playing cricket and knows how much that experience has helped. Having scored over 6000 first-class runs in 96 matches over the last eight years, the wait might have felt like never-ending, but clearly, in the end, it was worth it. DM
South Africa 552-5 declared: Hashim Amla 208 (371), AB de Villiers 152 (235); Kemar Rach 15.5-4-52-2, Sulieman Benn 46-7-148-2
Photo: Stiaan van Zyl (an eNCA frame grab)