Saturday, 17 December 2011

deVilliers - So This Is Test Cricket

South Africa have batted their way into the superior position after two days at Centurion but it wasn't until the second half of the day that they began to dominate.

Kallis felled by Fernando
Sri Lanka had a very good morning, removing Hasim Amla and Jacques Rudolph with good bowling and nightwatchman Dale Steyn with a stunningly accurate throw from Rangara Herath early in the piece. Steyn and Rudolph became confused over the need for a quick single to mid wicket and Herath beat the quickly retreating Steyn with a throw from a narrowing angle which removed middle stump so efficiently that a technician had to be summoned to repair stump cam. Welegedara, Perera and Fernando (I refuse to drum up puns) were mostly effective, using movement off the pitch to disturb the South Africans on off stump and bowling a mixture of varying length short balls which unsettled them. The zenith of the short stuff was a nasty blow to Jacques Kallis. After dispatching Perera through cover, cover point, midwicket and square leg with imperious shots, Kallis misread a short ball from Fernando which didn't rise and caught a ducking Kallis flush on the ear piece of his helmet. Reeling away from the wicket, he dropped his bat, threw of his helmet and collapsed to the ground. He resumed after quite a delay and shook his head through the short period until lunch, as though trying to clear his vision.
Rudolph caught in slips for 44

Amla (Angelo Mathews) and Rudolph (Thangara Paranavitana) were both brilliantly caught in slips to balls they had to play which decked away off a pitch which was still lively. 3-78 in the first session was a good return for Sri Lanka.

Kallis left soon after lunch, another victim to a fabulous Mathews catch in slips and the South Africans were susceptible at 5-173. Ashwell Prince and South Africa's best batsmen, AB deVilliers, then turned the game in a thirty over 97 run partnership which denied the Sri Lankans any further inroads. There was not an edge, a play and miss or a chance offered. deVilliers played shots to both sides of the ground with equal efficiency but it was his straight driving which stood out and Prince, after some intentional but risky shots through and over the slips early on, blossomed into a very responsible innings.

Prince and deVilliers made the
crucial partnership
Both left within ten overs of each other: Prince caught behind off a rejuvenated Mathews; and deVilliers out in heart breaking style at 99, cutting a ball to point where the sub fielder Karunaratne held a very low catch. To his great credit, he chose not to use the DRS, instead first asking the umpire and then, in the manner Kallis always does, asking the fielder. It was a fine example of the sportsmanship Ricky Ponting has been calling for over a long period of time and an example of the influence a senior player can have on his team mates. Well played deVilliers and well played Kallis. Cricketragics everywhere, clap loudly.

Mark Boucher took over, making runs which the media has been demanding of him. The modern game insists its wicket keepers all be a seventh batsman. Adam Gilchrist  has queered it for the blokes who just pride themselves on their neat, tidy and unflappable work behind the stumps, crouching, catching, running to the wickets, encouraging, clapping, offering advice and flying through the air to snatch half chances ... it should be enough really, especially as the thirty five year old Boucher has 150 more catches than anyone else in the history or the game and has scored more than 5000 runs at 30 ... and his is still the best gloveman on the world stage.

Boucher remained not out at the end, on the verge of a half century, building South Africa's advantage into a 209 run lead. He added 41 with Vernon Philander and an unbeaten 39 with Tahir for the last wicket. Between those two, Morne Morkel was out to a stunning catch by Samaraweera, high above his head in the gully. The Sri Lankans maintained a high standard all day in the field.

Even after the second new ball, Sri Lanka were blunted out of the game by superior batting from deVilliers and Prince that knew when to put away the flash and take out the sensible and visa versa. Their partnership will likely have won the game for the hosts. With rain developing late on the 3rd day and likely to persist as showers on the fourth, Graeme Smith could well declare overnight.