Classy Kallis underpins South Africa
Close South Africa 262 for 4 (Kallis 112*, Duminy 38*) v England
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Jacques Kallis's participation in this Test was in such doubt last week that South Africa packed him off to an oxygen chamber to hasten his recovery from a rib fracture. The success of his treatment was plain for all to see on the opening day at Centurion, as he produced a brilliant unbeaten 112 to asphyxiate England's ambitions in the rarefied Highveld atmosphere.
In a performance buttressed by solid contributions from Ashwell Prince, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, South Africa reached the close of a classic Test-match day on 262 for 4, a healthy return that left Andrew Strauss ruing his decision to bowl first on a green-tinged wicket. There could be no legislating, however, for the class of Kallis, who consigned his shaky form in last year's tour of England to history to produce his 32nd century in 132 Test appearances.
His recent experiences in the IPL have transformed Kallis's mindset to such an extent that he is even unleashed as an initiative-seizing opener in limited-overs internationals. But nothing rouses him quite like the opportunity to drop anchor and bat all day, and for 203 deliveries he was the epitome of insuperable - just as he had been on England's last tour of South Africa in 2004-05, when he top-scored for the hosts with 625 runs in five matches.
In the course of his masterclass, Kallis had just two significant moments of alarm - the first from his very first delivery when Graham Onions induced a low edge through the cordon, and then again six overs before the close, when Stuart Broad, armed with the new ball, induced a streaky top-edge that flew wide of fine leg to secure his century in an improbably undignified manner.
In between whiles, however, he paced his performance to perfection - bedding in when the sting went out of the attack; cashing in when the part-timers, Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott were handed exploratory spells; and counterattacking with premeditated effectiveness to knock Graeme Swann off his stride, after England's offspinner had struck with his second delivery of the match to remove Prince for 45. Just when Swann believed he was turning the screw, Kallis dropped to one knee to put him back in his box with a six and a four through midwicket.
Regardless of that indignity, Swann was the stand-out performer for England. Both of his dismissals were straight out of the textbook, with sharp turn and bounce accounting for Prince at slip and de Villiers at short leg in the last over before tea. It added up to the impression that Strauss had been suckered by the lurid nature of the Centurion wicket - to such an extent that he shelved his pre-series plan to hand a debut to the allrounder Luke Wright, and instead turned to the extra batting insurance in Ian Bell.
In mitigation, Strauss was also let down to varying degrees by his three-pronged seam attack. England were given a flying start when Graeme Smith was strangled down the leg side for a duck by Broad's third delivery of the morning, but instead of building on his good fortune, Broad quickly reverted to his back-of-a-length default setting. After an injury-plagued fortnight, James Anderson could not locate his rhythm despite two promising new-ball spells, and though Onions showed the way with a toiling wicket-to-wicket line that accounted for Hashim Amla (19), he succumbed to a calf strain midway through the final session and was limited to 14 overs in the day.
To compound England's frustrations, they also squandered both of their umpiring review opportunities during a foreboding afternoon session in which de Villiers and Kallis added 66 in 20 overs to push South Africa into the ascendancy. In the morning session, Prince had successfully overturned an lbw appeal from Onions when he had made just 19, and England were unable to redress the balance.
Strauss had steadfastly (and correctly) refused to be drawn on three earlier occasions, but his resolve cracked twice in quick succession - first when Anderson ducked an inswinger off an inside-edge and into Kallis's pads, and then when Swann and Prior were convinced that de Villiers had under-edged an attempted slog-sweep. With no HotSpot available to the third umpire, however, that decision was never likely to be overturned, and Strauss was rightly left kicking himself afterwards.
As the afternoon wore on and Kallis's bat grew broader with every delivery, Duminy settled into a tempo to match his senior partner, and was unbeaten on 38 from 103 deliveries at the close, with four fours and a two-stepped driven six off Swann to his name. South Africa's measured tempo means that England remain very much in contention, especially with a still-new ball in their possession. But Kallis's intent knows no bounds. Curiously, he has never yet managed a double-century in Tests. The time, he will feel, is nigh to put that right.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo