South Africa v Australia, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day March 20, 2009

Defiant Prince returns with a bang

Ashwell Prince's return century was also an innings of defiance, not so much against a limp Australia attack but against the shabby way he had been handled by the selectors


Ashwell Prince slipped easily into the unfamiliar role of Test opener © Getty Images
 

So that's two consecutive Test centuries for Ashwell Prince. Remember the first, back when he used to be part of the South Africa middle order? Back when he was the team's vice-captain and was treated like it? Back when he wasn't messed around by the selectors, dropped unfairly and then told if he was going to return it was only in the unfamiliar role of opener?

Last time Prince batted in a Test he came in at his usual No. 5 and made an unbeaten 162 against Bangladesh at Centurion. It was late November and it would have been sheer madness to suggest that he would be dropped and wouldn't play his next Test until March, when he would face the new ball.

But a broken thumb on the tour of Australia, combined with the glittering start to JP Duminy's Test career, left Prince without a place for the home series. His magnificent 150 on his return to the team highlighted exactly why Prince should have played the first two Tests. Prince has always been the kind of batsman who makes his big scores when the team is in trouble, precisely what was required in Johannesburg and Durban.

His return century was also an innings of defiance, not so much against a limp Australia attack but against the shabby way he had been handled by the selectors. When Prince was named as the replacement for the injured Graeme Smith in both captaincy and opening ahead of this Test, he felt that as the skipper he should determine the batting order. It's not an unreasonable expectation. When told again that he would open, he rejected the captaincy.

"I'm at peace with it," Prince said of his new opening role. "It goes without saying that I would have liked to come back in the middle order. I have stated that myself. But this is the cards that I have been dealt and I don't want to talk about batting in the middle order anymore, I just want to be positive about my new role."

And positive he was. He raced to 37 at stumps on the first day and continued to play his shots on the second day. Prince was especially powerful pulling the fast men and driving through cover and when the legspinner Bryce McGain eventually came on, when Prince already had 93, he welcomed him immediately with three consecutive fours, including a loft over mid-off that took him to triple-figures.

The Newlands crowd rose to cheer and Prince kissed his helmet and his bat, and in a powerful pose stuck both arms in the air and looked towards the dressing room. It was his 11th Test century but clearly one that was extra special. He was congratulated by Jacques Kallis, with whom Prince shared a 160-run partnership.

It was a fascinating combination; the man who was the acting captain and the player who was offered the same job but declined. The impressive thing for South Africa was that both led from the front. Kallis reached his hundred late in the day and his celebration - before being ruined by umpire Asad Rauf - looked more like that of a man scoring his first Test century than his 31st.

 
 
The most positive thing about the performances of Prince and Kallis was that these were both men strongly affected by the off-field selection shenanigans over the past week and a half
 

Kallis leapt in the air and swung his bat enthusiastically, a far cry from the languid leader who stood at slip on the first day. An incorrect leg-bye call interrupted his party as his score reverted to 99 but it was quickly fixed and Kallis was in triple figures for the first time in a Test in 11 months.

"His celebrations said a lot, it showed a man who is still very hungry to do well," Prince said. "He probably wasn't too happy with the umpire signalling leg-bye at the time but I think he's a class player and having been through a period where he hasn't scored a hundred for a while, obviously you could see that joy today when he got there."

The most positive thing about the performances of Prince and Kallis was that these were both men strongly affected by the off-field selection shenanigans over the past week and a half. That both men put it all aside and did what the team asked was a step forward for the South Africans, who haven't been at their most united through this series.

Unfortunately after this match they have no more Test cricket until December. Fortunately, Prince is again an incumbent in the batting order. South Africa are a stronger team when he is playing.

Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo