Cape Town – Proteas debutant Stiaan van Zyl desperately
seldom bats outside of a top five.
So there seemed certain pluses to the initially very strong
likelihood that, from his designated role at No 6 in the South African side, he
would get to the crease pretty quickly anyway at Centurion on Wednesday.
With the world’s No 1-ranked side losing their first three
wickets all with the total on 57 on day one of the first Test against West
Indies, the left-hander from the Cape Cobras presumably had to scramble his
pads on in a hurry.
But that was about as industrious as he had to get all day,
as he instead sat, partially wearing the cumbersome paraphernalia of
batsmanship, for some 75 overs watching a masterclass from established
superstars Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, wholly transforming the Proteas’ once
tenuous fate as they reached a giddy 340 for three at stumps.
Thanks to the pure class and respective unbeaten centuries
of De Villiers, ranked second among the planet’s Test batsmen, and the
sixth-placed Amla, South African can seriously think 500-550 as a likely
first-knock posting, after jittery moments on the damp and heavily overcast
first morning when 250 perhaps seemed a reasonable aspiration at times.
Instead the West Indies experienced the old “London bus
syndrome” after winning an inviting toss: three wickets in the space of 15
balls but then fruitless, damaging hours of inactivity in the wickets column.
The good news for the long dormant Van Zyl – an unenviable
situation when you are making your maiden appearance for your country – is that
on Thursday he will effectively bat at No 3, his favoured berth for his
franchise, as he will take guard at first drop on the day.
He is probably the reasonably patient type anyway, given
that he has waited until the age of 27 and diligent accumulation of more than
6,000 first-class runs to get to this first Test cap.
Van Zyl could also benefit from the absence or restricted
service of Kemar Roach, the Caribbean tourists’ most threatening bowler, as he
reportedly suffered some ankle ligament damage and was unable to complete his
16th over: whether the remaining front-line attack of Messrs Taylor,
Cottrell and Benn is capable of completing a 20-wickets job at SuperSport Park
is quite doubtful on early evidence.
But before we get to see the new guy stride to the crease,
there is the hardly inconsequential matter of West Indies trying to separate
the blazing De Villiers-Amla alliance.
It is already worth 283 runs, a South African record for the
fourth wicket, and if they successfully negotiate the first hour or so of a new
ball on the second morning, thoughts will inevitably begin to turn excitedly to
the possibility of their eclipsing the SA landmark for any wicket of 429
achieved by Jacques Rudolph and Boeta Dippenaar against Bangladesh at
Chittagong in 2003.
The pair have simply underlined, as if it was even
necessary, just how sublime they can be in full flight, and even if they had
their slices of luck along the way – most notably when Amla’s off-stump was
brushed by a Roach delivery without the bail dislodging when the bearded
accumulator had only 25 – conditions stayed resolutely challenging as they went
about their business.
It helped that the Windies’ seamers sent down far too many
Christmas gift half-trackers or leg-stump half-volleys, which served as welcome
pressure relievers, and when South Africa eventually get their turn to bowl, it
will be a surprise if their all-pace attack – Kyle Abbott has been infused for
additional venom at a ground where he already sports one-innings figures of 7/29
against Pakistan – is nearly as generous for freebies.
Was the visiting attack simply short of a gallop, after
playing only one rain-curtailed warm-up match on these shores ahead of the
Neutrals will hope so, because otherwise they seem destined
for a fair old bruising from the Proteas’ battery of stroke-players over the
next three weeks.
One area of concern for SA enthusiasts will be the absence
of a recognised spinner in the home ranks for later in the match; there was turn
and bounce on occasion for the lofty Sulieman Benn on Wednesday.
But some forecasts still indicate a fair amount of rain over
the next few days – including heavy fare ahead of the start of day two – and if
there is persistent cloud about you won’t hear too much whingeing from men like
Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Abbott ...*Follow
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing