Cape Town – Pakistan’s overdue resilience at the crease on the middle day of the Wanderers Test only underlined the platinum value of the earlier, swollen partnership for South Africa between Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla.
More than that, though, that particular pair coming to light so pleasingly on Sunday – plus a prior, late afternoon portion of Saturday, of course – had a broader cricketing significance for the national side.
For soon after the highly likely day-four finish to the third Test on Monday, the Proteas will swiftly change focus to the one-day international series, starting at St George’s Park on Saturday and also an increasingly critical phase of their build-up to the 2019 World Cup assault.
It is in that environment that the Amla-De Kock firm is a strong, settled factor for them in the important opening berths: the durable, ring-wise right-handed veteran and more instinctively dashing left-handed stroke-player traditionally dovetail superbly in the 50-overs game.
That is aptly reflected in the fact that they are the fifth most productive opening pair in ODI history (and premier South Africans) for weight of runs together; in 83 innings since 2013 they have amassed 3,919 at an average of 48.38.
It includes two stands of 200-plus and another near-miss (194), with their best of 282 (against Bangladesh at Kimberley in 2017) amounting to the joint-fourth best opening stand globally of all time.
So them feeling broadly chipper about their respective games is going to be a key component of the Proteas’ quest to end their major-tournament hoodoo in England from late May.
That is why, while it may have been in the more extended format at the Bullring, their partnership for the sixth wicket of 102 in SA’s second innings – from a dangerously teetering 93 for five – looks like a pretty good harbinger of things to come from the duo over the demanding next few weeks and months.
De Kock went on to equal his highest score in Test matches (129) while Amla had done an awful lot of yeoman yards toward a ton for himself before it took an unplayable delivery that spat out of a crack to account for him for a plucky and highly cerebral 71.
Their turnaround drive was hugely responsible for the Proteas being in a position to set the Pakistanis a very formidable target of 381.
Without it, the host nation might well have been tasked with defending a considerably leaner tally of runs, in conditions that currently seem as good for batting as at any other period of the contest and minus the variety able to be provided by a specialist spinner in their arsenal.
Bearing in mind that the tourists, bidding to stave off a 3-0 series whitewash, have suddenly shown some collective resolve among their frontline batsmen – they went to stumps at 153 for three from 40 overs which must have slightly
worn down the home seamers in the heat – a target of around 100 runs less might really have made for a tense fourth day’s on Monday.
As things stand, the Proteas remain fairly clear favourites to prevail.
Former captain and SuperSport Shaun Pollock observed with some legitimacy in post-play wrap that Dean Elgar’s charges probably feel they are “only two wickets away from running through” the Pakistan line-up, considering the kind of pack-of-cards collapses witnessed from them throughout the series.
De Kock was a picture of special delight upon recording his fourth Test century and first at the Wanderers where, he also revealed, he had not previously notched a first-class one.
That was largely because it has been just over two years and 38 innings since his last in the five-day game, against Sri Lanka at Newlands in the New Year fixture of 2016/17.
He opened the throttle quite blisteringly after Amla had departed – given South Africa’s more relaxed, dramatically revived position by then – before holing out.
More pronounced in recent times has been the 35-year-old Amla’s general lean trot in the game, but this Test has confirmed that he is slowly regaining his penchant for lengthy crease occupation and cutting out the uncharacteristic lapses in concentration that have cost him quite dearly at times.
Across his two innings at the Wanderers (including the first-knock 41), he has faced 242 deliveries and that is much more like the patient, serene plunderer of his heyday …
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