India in SA

Kallis keeps SA off rocks

2011-01-03 07:00
Jacques Kallis (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – If you know this city’s summer characteristics well, you would have been very loath to venture upfront that bad light would interrupt matters at the crazily premature time of 14:20 on day one of the traditional New Year Test at Newlands.

Isn’t that the unenviable preserve of places like Kingsmead? The Mother City tends to be a place of blinding light in January – yes, even when the weather gods are a little mischievous and giving beach- and cricket-goers frustrated frowns.

Indeed, who would have confidently predicted, either, that play would eventually drag out to a 19:04 finish to help make up for lost overs on a stop-start kind of day?

That is possibly even greater a rarity for a Test match, not just in these parts but South Africa as a whole.

Still, a day that began with irksome, lingering drizzle and gloom did at least end in contrasting, radiant sunshine and it was accompanied – no small thanks to the endeavours of that amazing specimen Jacques Kallis – by a far firmer situation for South Africa against India than when they started it.

They were certainly tottering a tad in the decisive third Test after losing the important toss under leaden skies and then seeing captain Graeme Smith get something else wrong by pretty quickly falling for six to his nemesis Zaheer Khan.

It was round about that time that this writer began to recall harrowing images of “Stuart Clark day” at the famous ground – when the 30-year-old Australian debutant ripped through the Proteas line-up on day one of the first Test in 2005/06.

South Africa were skittled for 205 then, with seamer Clark grabbing five for 55, and went on to be beaten within three days.

It is true that that was a mid-March occasion, rather than the New Year fixture, but conditions were uncannily similar: it had rained overnight and remained cloudy all day, with lateral movement and occasional spitefulness in bounce hardly in short supply.

But here the sun made a triumphant, albeit severely belated appearance at 17:34 – to a roar of approval from the patient 16 195 crowd, many of whom took off their shirts and twirled them in the air – and Kallis was primarily responsible for South Africa finishing in a reasonably radiant position as well.

The veteran, batting dominator was unbeaten on a typically assured and resilient 81 at the close, with the Proteas 232 for four and perhaps still harbouring thoughts of going past 400 – although this pitch could yet put a significant spanner in the works for either side before it settles down.

Kallis averaged 68 at Newlands going into this Test and of course there is now the prospect of that situation getting even rosier for him: he shared half-century stands with all of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince, who was still looking suitably limpet-like with him at stumps.

The funny thing is that, even if they continue to make better and better first-knock progress, the South Africans are fighting a long-time trend at Newlands which suggests that the team batting first also doesn’t go on to victory here.

It has not happened in any of the last eight Tests at the venue, and you have to go back to 2004/05, and the third Test against England, for the last occurrence (again Kallis had played a forceful role, scoring 149 in a first-dig total of 441).

Also to consider is that in recent Tests at the ground the middle days have been particularly ripe for rampaging batting exploits.

But curator Evan Flint’s pitch here has been under covers for quite some time in the lead-up to this Test, suggesting that day two, at least, ought to retain fairly strong hallmarks of an opening day, thus interesting the pacemen throughout it.

Uninterrupted sunshine and high temperatures seem in the offing for the remainder of the game, so Dale Steyn and company in the Proteas attack will be secretly hoping they, too, get a decent enough number of overs on the track on Monday.

Whatever the likely scenarios as the match takes firmer root, Smith’s team would at least have slept reasonably comfortably on their opening-day efforts, considering the climatic variances and stoppages they had encountered.

After all, flamboyant Indian tearaway Sree Sreesanth, their most successful bowler in wicket terms thus far, had said at the post-day press conference: “I would like to take that atmosphere (early in the day’s play) anywhere in the world with me.”

And Amla, who had played with an unusual but clever degree of daredevil for his 59 before he tried one attacking stroke too many, made the point that the ball was still “nipping” even after some 70 overs of use.

“There is a fair covering of grass ... the wicket has a lot of juice in it. With the overhead conditions (as well), we’re in a good space.”

And the bearded player raised a sympathetic chuckle when asked to explain his demise to a top-edged pull off the ever-abrasive Sreesanth: “I’d had a couple of chocolates, so maybe it was a sugar rush.”

The Proteas are sweetly enough placed, when you consider the rich morning potential for disaster ...

Read more on:    india in sa  |  jacques kallis  |  proteas

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