TELFORD VICE, Centurion
IT was hard to like Faf du Plessis’ grinding, obdurate, unlovely, sometimes butt ugly innings in the second test at Centurion on Sunday.
But, of the top five batsman, all of whom passed 50 for only the second time in all SA’s 733 innings in test cricket, Du Plessis stood alone.
Only he gutsed it out on a challenging pitch and against classy bowlers to score a century – a gritty undefeated 112 in more than six hours and off 234 balls; a monument to the patience of the batsman himself as well as those who watched him bat.
Du Plessis had everything to do with SA being able to declare on 481/8.
Only six times in the 88 tests in which they have been put in to bat have SA made a higher score in the first innings.
By stumps on the second day New Zealand had slip slided away to 38/3.
“Since day one we sensed that there’s a lot happening in this wicket,” Du Plessis said. “We needed one guy to anchor the innings. The plan was also to have a dip at them at the end.”
But for that plan to come together SA needed someone to hang tough.
And who better than their captain.
“I score hundreds – that’s my job,” Du Plessis said, and you could tell that he believed it even though Sunday’s effort was his first century in 17 completed test innings.
Indeed, Du Plessis should have been out for 18, but Henry Nicholls on the square leg boundary couldn’t hang on to a pull hoisted off Trent Boult.
Instead he kept SA going forward, albeit painstakingly, in stands of 71 with JP Duminy and 84 with Stiaan van Zyl.
Duminy, who resumed on 67, had a chance to score what would have been his first century in 14 completed test innings.
But he was out in the 12th over of the day when he flapped at a short delivery from Tim Southee and was caught behind.
Du Plessis avoided adding to the success of his fellow Pretoria native and former schoolmate, Neil Wagner, who took 5/86.
“I read last night that he was determined to get me out, so maybe that made me determined not to get out to him,” Du Plessis said.
Then he paid Wagner the ultimate compliment, at least between blue-collar battlers: “He’s a grafter, you can see that.”
Southee also had shining words for Wagner: “He’ll make something happen from nothing and today was no different.”
Dale Steyn lifted left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner down the ground for consecutive sixes, the first of which bounced on the roof of the grandstand.
Two balls later the declaration came, and Philander found the edge of Martin Guptill’s bat with his fifth delivery only for the ball to scream through Van Zyl’s hands at third slip.
Philander repeated the dose in his next over and this time Van Zyl clung to the catch.
Six balls after that Steyn had Tom Latham caught behind on review after umpire Paul Reiffel ruled bat had not touched ball.
Replays did not seem to reveal enough evidence to overturn that decision – ball, it appeared, he flicked the pocket of Latham’s trousers and nothing else – but television official Richard Illingworth said otherwise.
New Zealand were 26/3 when Ross Taylor thought there was a single in his bunt to midwicket off Kagiso Rabada.
Clearly he hadn’t considered the fleetfooted Temba Bavuma, who scooted from short fine leg to pounce and throw down the wicket with Taylor out of his ground.
Much will depend on Monday on Kane Williamson, who was 15 not out at stumps.
One captain has stepped into the breach in this match already. Will another?