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January 2, 2007
When they sat next to each other on the team bus during an ill-fated one-day series, Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik couldn't have dreamt of a day such as this, and a 153-run opening partnership that thwarted South Africa until Asad Rauf upheld an optimistic appeal from Paul Harris. Jaffer took that setback in his stride though, going on to make 116 before a tired push at a Dale Steyn delivery gave Jacques Kallis a 100th catch in Test cricket.
"We're pretty good friends," said Jaffer at the press conference after the day's play. "We have sat next to each other on the bus right through the tour, and I know him very well as a person. We get along well off the field, so there were not too many adjustments to make while opening the innings.
"He was playing a Test after a long while, and it was a commendable performance from him, not merely to accept the task of opening the innings but to make 60-plus."
When the two walked out in the morning after Rahul Dravid won the toss, they might have been forgiven for thinking that it was a home Test, minus the bedlam in the stands. According to Jaffer, it was "an Indian pitch" that greeted them.
"When we saw the track yesterday, we were surprised how a pitch in South Africa could look like this," he said with a characteristic shy smile. "It was very good for batting today and I'm glad we capitalised on it. The ball's already turning and there are rough patches. Obviously, Anil Kumble will have a role to play as the game wears on."
His place in the side had come under the scanner after two poor outings in the one-day series and failures in the tour game and first Test. But the team management kept faith and he played two attractive innings at Kingsmead, though the lasting memory will be of that awful pull that led to his dismissal on the final morning.
Jaffer called his third Test century the best possible gift that he could give his team at the start of the year. "I was definitely under pressure coming into this game," he said. "Right through this tour, I haven't made enough runs. I'm thankful to the team management that they stuck by me and gave me a chance to bat here. Thank God I came good in this Test."
He was mindful of what had happened in Durban, and showed commendable concentration for six hours under a blazing sun. "There's pressure in every match," he said. "I had spent some time in the middle in Durban, and that helped me here. I had a lapse in concentration there, and I wanted to avoid those mistakes."
Jaffer had been informed on the eve of the game that he was part of the 12, but he said that he only knew for sure that he'd be padding up when he arrived at the ground in the morning. The identity of his opening partner didn't surprise him unduly though. "It's the management's decision, I have no role in that," he said. "I am happy to bat with anyone as my partner."
For the moment, the man who sits alongside him on the bus appears to be as good an option as any.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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