TELFORD VICE, Centurion
THE last time South Africa scored more runs for the first wicket than they did against New Zealand on Saturday, Kenny Dalglish celebrated turning 54. He is now 65.
Graeme Smith has two reasons to remember the day – as a Liverpool supporter and because he and AB de Villiers were responsible for that log ago partnership.
They shared 217 at Newlands on March 4, 2005, the first of the two glory days South Africa needed to beat Zimbabwe by an innings.
No such drama electrified Saturday’s play, but considering South Africa’s form last season their supporters will be satisfied that they will resume on Sunday on 283/3.
But they will also be disquieted that Stephen Cook, Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla players failed to convert 50s into centuries.
Another half-centurion, JP Duminy, will bat on having emerged from more than two years in a wilderness of 10 completed innings in which he did not reach 50.
Cook and De Kock put on 133 for the first wicket, the latter opening the batting in a test for the first time and not since February 2014 at first-class level.
De Kock was promoted in the wake of an ankle injury Dean Elgar somehow sustained while crossing the boundary after training on Friday.
Or maybe De Kock promoted himself out of altruism.
“I said to ‘Rus’ (Domingo), ‘If you want me to I’ll do it’,” De Kock said.
Having drilled 15 fours in his 82, would he be up for the job again?
“No. It was cool and I learnt a bit about myself, but I’ll stay at No. 7, thanks.”
Pity, because for only the third time in all 217 of South Africa’s home tests their opening pair put on 100 before lunch on the first day, a milestone they reached having each survived chances put down by wicketkeeper BJ Watling.
But they were dismissed seven overs apart. De Kock, not content with having ramped Wagner over the slips and through third man for four, pulled raggedly at the left-armer’s next delivery and was caught on the fine leg fence. Cook fell to a catch in the gully, smartly snaffled low down by Kane Williamson.
Hashim Amla and Duminy kept taking the fight to the visitors in a stand of 95 ended when Amla couldn’t help edge a delivery from Wagner that swung towards leg and veered towards off after pitching. This time Watling held on.
Beyond the numbers it was the first time in forever that South Africa looked like a team not in decline.
A fine pitch, spiked with significant but not too much bounce, was one part of that equation. Another was Williamson’s decision to field first, perhaps prompted by the feeling that a pitch 20 days in the making should not deteriorate unduly.
The umpiring also favoured South Africa.
Paul Reiffel turned down Trent Boult’s early lbw appeal for Cook’s wicket. New Zealand reviewed and replays showed Cook had edged an inswinger.
Amla was given out lbw to Boult by Ian Gould only for the review to reveal the ball would have missed leg stump.
Gould also rejected lbw appeals for the wickets of Cook and Duminy, both of which would have been given out on replay evidence. The New Zealanders, no doubt mindful that they had only one review left, declined to risk using it both times.
Duminy showed no such reticence when Gould gave him out lbw. And a good thing, too: the ball had pitched outside leg.
Now Duminy, 33 runs short of a century, has the chance to make it count.