Sun, 01 Aug 2021

  • De Kock's near-unfailing ability to pick up the pace of a game came into play once again, despite the difficulty of conditions.
  • Curtly Ambrose feels a first-knock total of 300 by SA will spell trouble for West Indies ... and De Kock isn't done at the crease yet.
  • Captain Dean Elgar's penchant for "gutsing it out" came crucially into focus after a ropey start to day one for the tourists.

South Africa adhered stoically to tradition on a largely patience-examining day one of the decisive second Test against West Indies at Daren Sammy National Stadium in St Lucia on Friday.

The venue is renowned for the opening day of five-day combat there being a tough old slog for the batting side ... and this was no different for the Proteas.

During play, devoted Caribbean television commentator Fazeer Mohammed, a worthy successor in so many ways for the late Tony Cozier, joked about cricket's quirky tradition of the toss-losing captain - in this case Dean Elgar - being "invited" to bat first.

"I don't believe something can be considered an invitation if you can't turn it down," he opined, not without merit.

Well, the tourists were duly "invited" to bat on a surface that offered almost unrelenting (though it progressively eased, just a little) swing and seam movement and was initially under thick cloud cover, with some occasionally disruptive moisture around.

A sluggish outfield meant you cruelly, seldom got fullest value for a rare attacking-stroke indulgence along the grass, either.

That the Proteas tenaciously ended the day on 218 for five from 82 overs - run rate an industrial 2.65 -- was in keeping with a time-honoured hallmark at the ground and may be a little healthier in context than it will appear to some on paper.

Only once in the last six Tests there since 2014, now including this one, has the 250-mark been breached for total runs on the first day of combat ... and then only just when Sri Lanka were dismissed for 253 and the host nation replied with a brief 2/0 at stumps.

In the particularly unenviable first session for batting, where the blade was beaten on countless occasions by near-unplayable deliveries, survival was the dominant ethic ... and none of Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen or Rassie van der Dussen could cut the mustard, all falling short of double figures.

From 37 for three, the prospect of ripping through the entire SA order cheaply flickered promisingly for West Indies, who had omitted a specialist spinner from their line-up in favour of a four-strong premier pace battery.

But then the combined, gritty qualities of Elgar himself, who is an admirable masochist in such situations and would later fall for a hugely stabilising 77, and still-rookie Kyle Verreynne - curbing his more natural instincts pretty impressively - kicked in.

Their partnership of 87 for the fourth wicket stopped the rot, but also ensured that when the almost unfailingly free-flowing - in any situation -- Quinton de Kock took guard just before tea, some of the earlier spring in the step of the West Indies' bowlers had been quelled.

It is not a harbinger of home prosperity for the remainder of the vital Test, perhaps, that recalled strike factor Shannon Gabriel, though hardly slow in pace when the ball leaves his hand, made running up to the wicket or retrieving the ball in the outfield look like an overheated pantechnicon lumbering up Sir Lowry's Pass: his match fitness really looks wing-and-a-prayer stuff.

Not slow to realise that and other factors just beginning to shift the balance in ascendancy, De Kock, fuelled by that blistering 141 not out in the first Test at the same venue, injected confidence and a driving upward of tempo in the final session to (arguably) have the tourists in the better position by the close.

Having scored at inside two runs to the over in the first session, and then begun to perk the rate up more significantly in the second, it was no coincidence that De Kock's presence (59 not out at the finish) meant a heartening third session for South Africa of 93 runs at the cost only of Elgar's wicket.

The left-hander is already striking at a rate of 57, well above Elgar's next-best 32 for the cause so far, which only further illustrates just how naturally and instinctively he staves off being bogged down at the crease.

What's more, there is no special reason to be bearish, considering how he has looked in this short series so far, about his chances of achieving on Saturday a first-time personal milestone: back-to-back centuries in the format, especially if the Proteas' lower order do their bit in securely shepherding him along in the quest.

The phenomenon is something De Kock already knows well from the one-day international landscape, where he has achieved the feat twice ... and the first of them, instead, a sublime and less common three in a row.

That was in late 2013 when the baby-faced, still emerging figure lashed 135 (Wanderers), 106 (Kingsmead) and 101 (SuperSport Park) in successive matches against India.

Should De Kock get to three figures here, the Proteas will simultaneously be that much closer to registering a total of 300 or more which Windies' pace great Curtly Ambrose ventured on commentary, and perhaps with a sense of understatement, "could be challenging on this pitch".

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

Source: News24

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