Saturday 29 April 2017

Cricket: Cool Kallis holds off England blitz

Mike Atherton

England were granted a gilt-edged opportunity to take control on the opening day of the third Test match and their bowlers, at least, did not fluff their lines.

Andrew Strauss bore the brunt of the criticism for his decision to send South Africa in during the first Test, when really he was let down by his pace attack. This time, given first use of conditions again, they justified the captain's faith with a display of sustained excellence, South Africa ending a fascinating first day on 279 for six.

How far this represents a good return for England will be dictated by how quickly they can finish off South Africa this morning and, then, by their own batting.

The pitch at Newlands has a reputation for drying out quickly, and there has already been some evidence of inconsistent bounce. With sunshine forecast for the next four days, England must make their first innings count.

For that to happen, England's top six may care to look at Jacques Kallis who, amid the wreckage of South African batsmanship, has stood tall.

Test match batsmen pride themselves on their ability to score runs in all situations, but first-innings runs, which often dictate the course of a game, are especially prized. Three times now he has prospered in the first innings of this series, a hundred in Pretoria followed by a half-century in Durban and now a hundred on his home turf.

It was a milestone that came moments before the second new ball was taken, smashing a juicy full-toss from Kevin Pietersen to the cover boundary. For a moment, Kallis emerged from what throughout his stay seemed like a hermetically sealed bubble, raising both arms in triumph and emitting a huge smile to the galleries. This was his 33rd hundred in Tests and his sixth at this ground. Remarkable.

That England did not finish in a better position by the close was down to his excellence, and a couple of dropped catches. The second -- a tough one put down by Jonathan Trott at third slip off Dale Steyn -- had less significance, but the let-off given Graeme Smith in the second over of the morning was among the day's pivotal moments.

It came when Smith drove expansively at his second ball, the first from Graham Onions, only for Graeme Swann, at second slip, to fluff both the chance and the rebound. It was costly not because Smith went on to make 29 runs more, but because it protected Kallis from the new ball for over an hour.

Had Swann taken the chance, as surely Paul Collingwood would have done had he not been removed from the slips because of his dislocated finger, then who knows what might have happened?

Even though Kallis was spared from facing a new ball that was darting about, he was superb. On a day that required careful judgement because of the lateral movement throughout, he offered a study in technical excellence.

Standing upright and still, oblivious to all around him, and playing with the straightest of blades, his was a chanceless innings. It was an instruction to his colleagues, too, in how to neuter a pesky off-spinner, his skilful manoeuvring of Swann through the leg side a lesson to the rest.

In light of that, Strauss and Swann may want to reconsider their tactics to Kallis, who was granted vast acreage on the leg side to pick off his singles. At no stage did the batsman have to take a risk, by hitting the ball over the infield, the deep-set men at long-on, deep mid-wicket and deep mid-on, nothing more than retrievers of calculated ground strokes rather than potential catchers in the deep.

Without Kallis, South Africa's position would have been parlous. Only Mark Boucher passed 50 otherwise and there were ducks for the two players whose places are under most scrutiny, Ashwell Prince and J-P Duminy. There is much cricket to be played in this match, but the suspicion is that one or both of these players have one more innings to save themselves from the touch of cold steel on their necks.

That the axe had already fallen on Makyaha Ntini was obvious from his absence from warm-ups. By all accounts, a Kolpak contract at Middlesex awaits and while it is sad when a fine player leaves the international scene in a less-than-fitting manner, South Africa were right to move on.

The teams arrived to a ground shrouded in mist, fine rain falling and a blanket of cloud covering the whole of Table Mountain so that the dominating feature of Cape Town was completely hidden from view.

Logic

It looked like a bowling morning and Strauss had no hesitation in sending the opposition in, something Smith would have loved to do. If the decision in the first Test was questionable, few could doubt the logic behind Strauss' move here.

After Prince failed to get his gloves out of the way of a seaming ball from James Anderson, and Smith had edged though to the butter-fingered Swann, it was clear that Strauss' judgment at the toss was sound, even though the afternoon sunshine shortened England's advantage. Although only two wickets fell in the morning, England's seam bowlers were never less than accurate and demanding.

It was no more than they deserved when Onions persuaded Hashim Amla to play across a straight ball, and Anderson's first ball after lunch found the edge of Smith's blade. The South Africa captain had walked off to lunch arguing with Pietersen, and England's delight at his dismissal was obvious.

It needed Swann, once again, to cut short a middle-order revival after AB de Villiers and Kallis added 76 for the fourth wicket. Clearly unsettled by the off-spinner, De Villiers decided attack was the best form of defence and, skipping down, clipped straight to Strauss at short mid-wicket. Duminy then misread the length of his first ball, groping forward blindly when he ought to have played back, the ball brushing his outside edge to give him a second consecutive golden duck.

This brought more delight for Swann, but his overriding emotion last night would have been to wonder what might have been (© The Times, London)

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