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January 11, 2013
South Africa 325 for 4 (Amla 106*, du Plessis 69*) v New Zealand
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Features : Don't drop Amla, simple
Features : Friends reunited on opposite sides
Features : The serenity and sensibility of Amla
Series/Tournaments: New Zealand tour of South Africa
For significant parts of the opening day in Port Elizabeth, New Zealand pushed South Africa reasonably hard, which is much more than happened last week at Newlands. There were spells of testing bowling, a fair amount of playing and missing and some blows for the batsmen to take. However, the final scoreline, anchored by Hashim Amla's 19th Test hundred, is a story of South Africa dominance on a surface that certainly was not placid.
Whether South Africa's bowlers would have got more out of the pitch in the first session will remain unknown, but Brendon McCullum certainly looked relieved when he did not have to make a decision at the toss when the coin fell Graeme Smith's way. Few expect New Zealand to draw level in the series, but they needed to build on the improvement shown after the horrid start in Cape Town when McCullum won the toss, chose to bat and they were bundled out for 45.
Without putting South Africa on the back foot at any stage they at least ensured it was not one-way traffic. They bowled better before lunch than one wicket suggested, although struggled to build pressure with a steady supply of loose deliveries, and the first hour of the afternoon brought the significant blows of Smith and Jacques Kallis to leave South Africa 137 for 3.
The key moment of the day, though, came a few moments later when Amla, 48, failed to keep a back-cut down against Trent Boult but Kane Williamson could not hold on at gully. During New Zealand's tour of Sri Lanka late last year, Williamson held some stunning catches. This one was tough, but easier than those - and one New Zealand desperately needed to take. From there, Amla's century felt inevitable.
Three balls later he went to his fifty with a square cut, and it was the same shot that took him to a hundred during the final session from 187 balls. It was not Amla at his most flamboyant, as was the case in Australia on occasion, and for that New Zealand's bowlers deserve some credit even if the finishing touch was still often missing with a boundary-ball offered to keep the scoreboard moving. Neither is patience a problem for Amla and he was happy to wait, rather than try to manufacture too much on the first day.
Amla's catch was not the only missed opportunity for New Zealand. Facing the second new ball, Faf du Plessis gloved Boult down the leg side but was given not out. After some deliberation McCullum did not review only for HotSpot to clearly show the touch. Du Plessis, much to the amusement of the South Africa changing room, tried his hardest not to let on what had happened. He also had some problems against Jeetan Patel with one edge falling tantalisingly short of McCullum at slip.
However, like Amla, du Plessis was hungry to make New Zealand pay for their mistake. He went to his fifty with a crunching pull that cleared deep midwicket and benefited from the second new ball as the extra hardness helped it run away. The fifth-wicket stand was worth 102 by the close. In reality, this was still men against boys.
There was early movement on offer in Port Elizabeth's first Test since 2007. The crowd was not massive although, hopefully, over the weekend that will improve. For their sake it was good that New Zealand could not be blown away in a session again. Alviro Petersen did not survive the opening hour, top edging Doug Bracewell to fine leg when he was not fully committed to the shot.
Bracewell was the pick of New Zealand's seamers and troubled Smith, who was not at his best, including clonking him on the back of the helmet as Smith turned his head away from a bouncer. Smith needed a few minutes to compose himself and was close to being lbw a few moments later. That was a curious piece of cricket: the umpire said not out, McCullum decided not to review and replays showed it was hitting middle but Bracewell had overstepped.
Smith's outside edge was located by all three seamers, but he was good enough to keep the ball short of the slips and benefited from a couple of boundaries to third man. Neil Wagner, the left-armer who was recalled in place of Chris Martin, caused some tricky moments but had a tendency to bowl a touch short.
As Smith so often does, he stuck in and reached fifty from 80 balls but then glanced a delivery from Wagner down the leg side. For Wagner it was an emotional wicket against a side that includes former team-mates. His later contest with AB de Villiers, who went past 6000 runs, certainly had an extra level of intrigue.
Kallis began with an imperious pull but got an inside edge driving at Bracewell, leaving Amla and de Villiers to ensure there was no significant wobbles in the middle of the day as they consolidated against the workmanlike attack. The pair added 86 for the fourth wicket until de Villiers lazily gave his innings away when he chipped Patel to midwicket. It was a waste from de Villiers, a mistake that Amla was not going to make.
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