De Villiers hundred gives SA slight edge

AB de Villiers' 21st Test century gave South Africa a vital lead

[] -AB de Villiers produced the outstanding innings that the Cape Town Test craved, but even his redoubtable efforts have yet to shake off West Indies. Facing a first-innings deficit of 92 runs at tea on the third day, they battled doggedly to clip that deficit to four runs by the close of the day. Eight wickets still

AB de Villiers' 21st Test century gave South Africa a vital lead
AB de Villiers’ 21st Test century gave South Africa a vital lead

stand. It has been a respectable effort.

If one leading bookmaker regarded West Indies as 12-1 outsiders at change of innings, it owed as much to the perceived imbalance between these two sides as the state of the game. Those odds had tightened markedly by the close. If this dry, cracked surface deteriorates at the right time for West Indies, they are still in this game. As yet, despite occasional uneven bounce and some slow turn, it is biding its time.

De Villiers’ 148, his 21st Test hundred, was a gem. He was last out, finally silenced when he tried to deposit Marlon Samuels into the crowd and Shannon Gabriel caught him, second attempt, at long-on. He had become the first batsman to make good his start after eight had fallen between 42 and 68, most because of a lapse in concentration. But West Indies had hung in the match by removing the last five wickets for 37 runs in 14 overs.

De Villiers’ progression to his century was another career highlight. In six balls, he introduced the reverse sweep, once and for all, into polite society: at least when he accompanies it anyway. Perhaps it takes the No. 1 ranked Test batsman in the world to play the shot with no sense of risk when a century is on his mind, a first-innings lead is beckoning and a Test is in the balance on a testing surface. Or perhaps it was all done by computer graphics.

De Villiers achieved that mood in one memorable over against Samuels, moving from 87 to 103 as he took 16 off the over, 10 of them with reverse sweeps so authoritative that had they been witnessed for the first time the shot would have seemed as politic as the straightest of forward defensives.

He displayed his rare ability to meld two distinct forms of the game, to introduce a daring approach borne of T20 cricket into a Test in the balance without the merest hint of ill-judgment. First came an assessment of the field, then a perfectly-timed adjustment of his bottom hand, finally a faultless execution. He fancies he can attack Samuels: it was both forthright and appropriate.

Quite why Samuels was bowling the fourth over after lunch with the Test so keenly poised and the second new ball only 15 overs old was a mystery, even allowing for West Indies’ limited options. He didn’t bowl another one. De Villiers welcomed him with a crease-scrubbing reversed sweep for four, rocked back to cut the next ball to the boundary, and polished off the over with another reverse – his third – which scooted away to the fence.

With South Africa still 102 behind at start of play, and a new ball just over 10 overs away, it was a period in which a lack of concentration could hand over the initiative. Fortunately for West Indies, Samuels’ start to the day – three successive desultory full tosses – did not set the tone.

A ball change five overs into the day provided succour. Holder immediately dismissed Amla, finding just enough away movement from a tight line to find the edge. At the non-striker’s end, de Villiers shook his head, not just at the wicket but at recognition that his job had become harder. Holder, recognising the opportunity, tightened his line and bowled the best spell of the match, finally resembling a third seamer’s worth.

It was a tough entrance for Temba Bavuma, the diminutive kid from Langa, a Cape Town township, playing in only his second Test; the first black African batsman to play Tests for South Africa. A push through mid-on to get off the mark was warmly greeted. But Gabriel picked up Bavuma in his second over, the batsman playing on, minded to leave.

When West Indies were not confronted by de Villiers, they fell foul of some mediocre umpiring. Quite how Sulieman Benn maintained a sunny disposition when Simon Harmer was not given out for his own version of the reverse sweep was a mystery.

Harmer swept the left-arm spinner out of the rough and, although umpire Paul Reiffel declared not out, a West Indies review clearly showed the ball deflecting off the glove as it looped up to the wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin. The TV umpire, Billy Bowden, was not convinced. West Indies were bemused. Gentle Ben was a TV series in the 1960s involving an orphaned bear, but for a few seconds there seemed to be the chance of a remake.

It fitted a frustrating pattern for Benn as South Africa edged towards supremacy. Van Zyl’s unconvincing innings ended on 33 when he fell lbw to Samuels, but he needed two reviews to get that far. A South Africa review spared him when he padded up to Benn and then West Indies failed to overturn a decision when he botched a sweep. Finally, they got him – but even that needed a review.

De Villiers apart, South Africa’s first innings malfunctioned. Vernon Philander was run out without scoring, failing to steal a single to Jason Holder at midwicket; Harmer’s debut innings ended when he fell lbw to Jerome Taylor; and Steyn became the third South Africa batsman to be run out, well short as Leon Johnson hit direct from mid-off.

There was much work for West Indies’ batsmen to do to complete a battling day; indeed, a battling Test. When Morne Morkel had Devon Smith caught at the wicket and Kraigg Braithwaite was bowled by Harmer – his first few overs showing good, attacking purpose – it looked bleak for West Indies, but Johnson and Samuels saw out the final 20 overs to leave this Test still full of possibilities. (Cricinfo)


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