TELFORD VICE, Port Elizabeth
IT was the day the music died, but rumours of South Africa’s domination of Sri Lanka, rife before the test series, turned out to be greatly exaggerated at St George’s Park on Monday.
The home side, so the theory went, would huff and puff and blow Lankans across the Indian Ocean from whence they had come.
Except that, at stumps on the first day of the rubber, South Africa were 267/6 and had several unfinished innings to show for what should have been the advantage of batting first.
And that against an attack that would have been toothless but for their dentures.
Stephen Cook, Dean Elgar and JP Duminy each kept the bowlers quiet for two hours, and Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis for more than an hour-and-a-half.
Only for Duminy’s 63, an innings filled with flourished drives through the covers and down the ground, to emerge as their best effort.
“Six down is probably two too many but we’ve still got two quality batsmen out there who could get us over that 350 mark,” Duminy said with reference to Quintin de Kock and Vernon Philander, who will resume on Tuesday.
“If we can battle our way to 400 that will stand us in good stead.”
Cook and Elgar shared 104 – their first partnership of 50 or more in the nine times they have opened the batting together, and the first time since Barry Richards and Eddie Barlow took 157 off Australia in 1970, 14 tests ago, that South Africa have posted a century stand for the first wicket at St George’s Park.
The table, then, was heavily laden for Christmas lunch. Pity no-one stayed for longer than it took to get halfway through the main course.
That would have been a century and more on a pitch that, though grassy and offering the seamers some assistance, was a long way from challenging.
Cook and Elgar were rarely tested in the first session by a pace attack that quickly settled on a decent line and length and found movement off the seam, but didn’t have the pace to threaten consistently.
Sri Lanka’s key bowler, Rangana Herath, was introduced in the 20th over some 35 minutes before lunch.
The slow left-armer quickly extracted some awkwardness from the batsmen but it was left to Suranga Lakmal to do the striking.
Tall and rangy, Lakmal found just enough pace and seam movement to ask questions. His answer was a tidy haul of 4/62.
Lakmal removed Cook and Elgar for 59 and 45, both caught behind five overs apart after lunch, to reduce South Africa to 105/2.
Then Hashim Amla and Duminy kept the home side on the front foot, mostly through the latter’s elegant aggression.
Amla took 23 balls to get off the mark. Having gutsed it out scratchily for another 42 deliveries for his 20 he played away from his body to Lakmal and was caught behind.
No-one has scored more runs for South Africa this year than Amla, but he has now gone 10 innings without a century and seven without a 50.
Duminy, though, wasn’t worried about South Africa’s senior pro: “The demeanour of ‘Hash’, it looks like nothing fazes him.
“You look at him the changeroom and it doesn’t seem like anything has happened. And that’s the strength of the man.
“We’ve all been through stages in our career where there’s a lack of runs but he’s a quality player and there’s no doubt that a big hundred is around the corner.”
A big hundred by Duminy looked his for the taking. Then he tried to sweep Herath and was trapped in front.
Had he continued to play as straight as he did for most of his innings the thrust of the day’s play might have been different.
Herath added Temba Bavuma’s wicket to his quiver before Lakmal had Du Plessis taken low at first slip by Dimuth Karunaratne to end the South African captain’s introverted innings at 37.
Much of which happened in something like funereal silence compared to the usual sound of a St George’s Park test, what with the band colouring the atmosphere a rich shade of brass.
Not this time. At least, not after match referee David Boon ordered the music stopped during overs.
Which came as news to Duminy: “I love the band, especially when they’re shouting, ‘JP jou lekker ding’.”
Don’t we all. And for a while there, they were.