England in SA
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Eng can't budge SA's rock
Centurion – For those South Africans who respect the weight of omens, the Proteas losing their captain Graeme Smith for a seven-ball duck early in the first Test against England at SuperSport Park here must have been considered a particularly bad one.
The same fate, after all, befell the imposing captain on day one of the opening encounter in Port Elizabeth five years ago, his team lost the match and then later the series by a narrow 2-1 margin.
Despite some other luminary acts in their batting midst these days, it might still be said that South Africa’s fate at the crease hangs heavily on whether either of their renowned “big two” – call it the Biff-and-Jakes firm -- comes off.
Jacques Kallis, believe it or not, registered a first-knock nought at St George’s Park too, and it was left to Boeta Dippenaar and Jacques Rudolph to calm the butterflies then – even if ultimately in vain as England got a crucial nose in front in the summer.
But lightning seldom strikes twice and the admirably obdurate right-hander’s 32nd Test century and sixth against these opponents on Wednesday moved his country from a slightly nervy start into a position of minor but satisfying superiority by the close.
This organ implored the Proteas brains trust only a few days ago to play Kallis in the first Test, even if sans a bowling role as he continues his rehabilitation from a rib fracture.
And how precious his presence was – whether or not you want to reverently brand him a wounded warrior in some senses -- as South Africa ground their way, in an intriguing day’s play for the purist, to 262 for four and at least a healthy sniff of a total in the psychologically comfortable region of 375 or perhaps more.
The Proteas’ “foundation” task is far from completed, of course, as the unbeaten fifth-wicket alliance of 103 between Kallis and JP Duminy – vitally, they batted for the duration of the final session – may well be required to prosper further if the hosts are to post the sort of score they want.
For it is worth bearing in mind that South Africa are considered to have an all-too-expansive tail in Test matches.
Duminy, still playing in only his seventh Test, remember, played with commendable composure and fortitude as England tried to rough him up with short-pitched deliveries, and he was quite happy to let Kallis, not exactly a Sehwag for strike-rate relish himself, do the lion’s share of the scoring (59 of the tally to his 38) as their stand reached the three-figure mark.
And yet nobody can credibly whinge about South Africa’s fairly cautious rate of knots on a pitch that was spicy in the first session and then began to show some signs of deviant bounce (it ought to get that man with the basketballer’s build, Morne Morkel, pretty interested) after England had won the toss and inserted Smith and company.
Kallis basically dropped anchor as only he knows how, showing a near-impregnable defence for one so supposedly short of “middle” time recently and every now and then emerging from his shell to play truly majestic attacking strokes – like his strangely flamboyant pull, where his front foot lifts high as if to underline the sheer imperiousness of his action.
Further kudos to him is that he has not played a first-class knock of any kind since the last Test against Australia at Newlands last season, so this was a back-to-back century at international level.
Whatever happens on day two, he is going to swell further his Test average at this venue – pleasingly about three-quarters full at one stage – which stood at 60.73 going into this encounter.
And whenever Kallis “overnights” beyond the century mark, it is almost impossible not to contemplate at least the possibility that he might go on to reach that still elusive double-ton mark.
If he and Duminy get through the first hour or two on Thursday, with what remains a virtually new ball in England’s hands, such thoughts will only gather momentum – especially with the visitors already showing evidence that a four-man specialist attack is not the ideal way to try to bowl a team out twice in what looks like staying unrelentingly hot weather until the weekend.
England’s engagingly larger-than-life off-spinner, Graeme Swann, faced up to the media after the close, and put a brave face on England’s marginally second-fiddle status as things stand.
“The fact that we’re not going for three an over is a positive to take out,” he said.
“Obviously we would have liked more than four wickets, but we’re fairly happy they
haven’t got away from us.
“We’re not unhappy with our decision to bowl – stats show that bowling first here can be pretty lucrative. We were justified in doing what we did.
“Kallis is a class player -- their guy who holds it all together.”
Grateful South Africans, of course, appreciate that more than most …