AB de Villiers turns the table
AB de Villiers struck a fine innings of 97, and Nicky Boje chipped in with a vital cameo to wrestle back the initiative for South Africa on the third day of the first Test against New Zealand at Centurion. With good support from the lower-order, and from Jacques Kallis earlier in the day, de Villiers has given South Africa a sizeable lead of 229 runs. A lead of any sorts, however, seemed a fanciful notion following a collapse to 73 for 4.
de Villiers played beautifully. Considering the gaping hole South Africa found themselves in, his determination to drag back the initiative was remarkably impressive. He came to the crease with his team effectively 12 for 4 and, with the pitch proving to be a minefield, New Zealand had total control over proceedings. Their opening bowlers in particular, Chris Martin and James Franklin, used their height to excellent effect; balls were spitting off a length and passing the bat with such frequency the batsmen could only wear a wry smile, forget about the last delivery, and concentrate on the next.
This is exactly what de Villiers and Kallis did so expertly. Their partnership of 67 spanned 25 overs. Turgid it might have been, but the pair were laying a solid foundation and eking out a handy lead. It was a situation tailor-made for Kallis. Having missed out on a sizeable score in the first innings, he made up for it today - in what is his 100th Test match - with an innings of true grit, resolve and determination. Technically the best batsman in South Africa, even he struggled with the bounce and conditions as Kyle Mills, not known for his pace, found several balls to shoot off a length, one of which cannoned into Kallis' chest. It was a disconcerting sight, not least for the waiting batsmen.
Despite the painful blow, he ploughed on with admirable determination. Yet after reaching his 39th Test fifty, seemingly en route to another Kallis Special, he was out-thought by the New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming, who introduced Scott Styris to the attack. Eyeing easy runs, especially when Styris gave him a half-tracker, he spooned one down Daniel Vettori's throat at deep fine-leg. It was a discouraging, depressing dismissal, at a point when South Africa were looking increasingly comfortable.
In fact, today's events were a near carbon copy of yesterday. Like New Zealand, South Africa were cut apart in the morning session only to recover in the afternoon. And while Kallis' dismissal had the New Zealanders understandably slapping each others backs in celebration, de Villiers remained solid much as Jacob Oram had for the Kiwis yesterday.
It was South Africa who were playing catch-up cricket earlier in the day, however. Martin and Franklin bowled with menace, on a pitch offering substantial movement, rapping batsmen on the gloves, on the helmet and the forearms with painful regularity. Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs both fell within the first half an hour and Boeta Dippenaar scratched unconvincingly for 16 before edging one to Fleming, who took a brilliant catch at first slip. Once Ashwell Prince fell - edging Franklin meekly for the second time in the match - South Africa had only survival on their minds.
As Oram's heroics yesterday proved, it takes just one innings to turn a match around and de Villiers did just that. Though he fell three short of his fourth Test hundred, he had rescued South Africa from a hazardous position into one of authority. With a lead stretching beyond 200 and with a pitch starting to wear, New Zealand will have to fight with all the courage de Villiers, and Oram, have displayed and then some.
How they were out
Graeme Smith lbw b Martin 7 (8 for 1)
Straightened on him, beaten by movement
Herschelle Gibbs c Styris b Franklin 2 (19 for 2)
Angelled across, nervous poke to second slip
Boeta Dippenaar c Fleming b Oram (42 for 3)
Off-cutter edged to first slip who dived forward, brilliant catch
Ashwell Prince c McCullum b Franklin 11 (73 for 4)
Held its line, but dreadful shot selection
Jacques Kallis c Vettori b Styris 62 (140 for 5)
Bouncer pulled to deep fine leg
Mark Boucher b Mills 21 (194 for 6)
Dragged on an inswinger
Shaun Pollock lbw b Vettori 10 (205 for 7)
Drifted in and hit the pad...perhaps a little unlucky
AB de Villiers c Franklin b Oram 97 (270 for 8)
Driven upishly to extra-cover
Nicky Boje c McCullum b Astle 31 (276 for 9)
Wafer-thin edge to the keeper, fine catch
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo