When a third wicket fell in 15 balls during the morning session, possibilities for the opening day at Centurion abounded but the final outcome involved two very common sights: Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers with hundreds to their name.
The pair came together on 57 for 3 following the loss of three wickets for no runs either side of drinks as West Indies briefly found their venom and they were not separated for the rest of the day. There was added significance in both hundreds, for Amla it was his first Test as captain on home soil and for de Villiers it marked 10 years to the day since he made his Test debut against England, at Port Elizabeth – a match that also marked the first appearance for Dale Steyn.
Their stand at the close was worth a fourth-wicket South Africa record 283 in 75 overs – 115 runs coming between lunch and tea – the run rate highlighting both the counter-attacking nature of the batting and also the number of scoring opportunities offered by the West Indies attack.
Only Kemar Roach ended in credit, his first spell have been an exacting six overs worth 2 for 16, but there was the worrying sight of him hobbling off the field five balls into his 16th over with what appeared to be an ankle injury. With Roach off the ground, the day ended with the dispiriting sight of Sulieman Benn, Marlon Samuels and Kraigg Braithwaite going through overs of spin with the old ball.
De Villiers was first to the three figures, his 20th hundred in Tests, from 138 balls and Amla followed a short while later from 161 deliveries, his first century against West Indies which leaves only Zimbabwe for him to tick off. Both had a stroke of fortune; one a slice of outrageous luck and the other a sloppy mistake by West Indies in the field.
The first significant moment came shortly after lunch when Amla was on 25 and Roach beat the edge with another wicked legcutter, the ball clipped the off stump but the bails refused to fall to the ground. Later, there was a self-induced error when de Villiers was 63, Benn could not collect a throw at the stumps with the batsmen well short of his ground.
De Villiers struck two sixes, advancing at Benn and Samuels, but neither batsman had to go out of their way to keep the scoring rate high with most overs offering a scoring opportunity. Still, the driving from both was, as ever, a joy to behold. Jerome Taylor – who was the biggest let down for West Indies – regularly offered up width, and Sheldon Cottrell managed just three maidens between them in 35 overs.
West Indies were playing their first international since the contracts dispute which led them to withdrawing from the India series in October and they did not seem in gear for a Test series. Play was delayed by half an hour due to early morning rain and the skies remained heavy as Denesh Ramdin and Amla emerged for the toss. It was no surprise when Ramdin was quick to insert South Africa. But the West Indies quicks did not get the memo regarding conditions and could not find a consistent line and length in the early exchanges: the first 10 overs brought nine boundaries, six to Alviro Petersen and three to Dean Elgar.
Roach, surprisingly, was not given the new ball and by the time he came into the attack South Africa already had 44 on the board in nine overs. He brought menace and consistency to the attack, started to build up some pressure and was rewarded with Petersen’s edge with a delivery which straightened and went to first slip. The message was starting to reach the West Indies bowlers and Cottrell’s second spell began to offer a double-pronged threat as the runs dried up.
While Petersen received a decent delivery to end his stay, that could not be said for Elgar who helped a short, wide offering from Cottrell to gully – an awful waste for a batsman in conditions when a good ball is never far away. Cottrell, the former soldier, who used to stand guard at Sabina Park before turning his hand to fast bowling, gave a salute as Samuels held the chance.
West Indies were buoyed and a few moments later were ecstatic when Roach’s probing line found Faf du Plessis’ outside edge – his first Test duck in his 29th innings – and the third wicket fell with the score on 57. It was an opening for West Indies but they were not good enough to force through it. Whether they get another opportunity, in this match or even the series, remains to be seen. (ESPNcricinfo)