South Africa v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day January 4, 2012

All change at Newlands as willow dominates

After a year in which the ball has dominated matches, with dramatic collapses deciding games, this Test will redress the balance with a battle of the batsman

A run a minute. Yes, it really was that many. Between them, South Africa and Sri Lanka put on 382 runs in 382 minutes. The run-rate only dipped below four as the day entered its twilight zone. Astounding when you consider that less than two months ago at this ground, 23 wickets fell on a single day.

Newlands has been the summer's home of extremes, going from the breathlessness of the Australia Test to the intricate fascination of the current contest. While the November match stood out in neon, attracting the attention of even those with an outside interest in the game, this fixture is made up of more delicate shades, the baby pinks, blues and greens that catch the eye of the most passionate of cricket lovers. So-called "batting matches" usually do that.

There's a particular patience that goes into watching someone craft an innings from single-figures, to double-digits, to a three-figure score and beyond. Jacques Kallis' 224 took seven hours and 14 minutes to accumulate while AB de Villiers spent a shade over 300 minutes at the crease. Together, the pair put on a third of South Africa's runs and presented an artist's impression of the game.

The nuances of Kallis' innings were there to be marvelled at - from the way he went from playing the aerial pull to keeping it down, the timing of his drive and the soft clip to the leg side, in the space where he knows there is adequate time for two. For those who have admired Kallis, since his first hundred in Australia, to his two hundreds in two innings against India at Newlands last year, this innings was an illustration of the man himself. Beyond being graceful and classy, it was a show of supreme determination, the quality that Kallis uses to best describe himself.

Last year, bowlers enjoyed their most successful period in a decade. Tests everywhere saw bursts of wickets dictating results. The two Tests played this year suggest something different

De Villiers' display was more flashy and flamboyant and he invented strokes as his innings went on. Once his century came up, de Villiers mentally flexed the shoulders, freed the arms and pushed the accelerator. Chanaka Welegedera was subject to his tap to third man, Tillakaratne Dilshan to his slog-sweep and Rangana Herath to an outrageous punch over the covers. Kallis predicted that de Villiers could become "one of the greats of the game" and on the evidence of this performance, that could well turn out to be true.

Jacques Rudolph had the perfect situation to justify his inclusion in the Test squad. He was moved down to No. 6, after seven innings at the top, in which he failed to record a half-century. Rudolph's talent is not in doubt, his ability to translate it is.

This knock does not provide conclusive-enough evidence on whether he has been able to do that successfully. There will come situations where Rudolph will have to rescue the team from 130 for 4 to where he will have to bat out a day to save a match but this was not one of them. This time, he only had to build on what had already been laid. Still, he was able to do it successfully and at least that confirms his skills are still adequate and his desire still there.

Sri Lanka will look at South Africa's performances and wish they had had first use of the pitch. Dilshan, who may have been wary of putting himself in the firing line first, will now see that it was actually a calm sea he could have sailed on. He made up for his toss blunder with a blistering innings. It started with a streaky outside edge and ended with an attempt at a loft over long-on that Graeme Smith did well to hold on to. In between, there was the straight drive and the stab through point, the thump through mid-off and the top-edged pull.

The surface was there for Dilshan to brand with his name. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene will feel the same. The former has only just vindicated himself with a century after three failings and the latter has yet to play an innings of authority in South Africa. The number 624 will mean something to them but even half of that - or a tad less - will probably suffice.

For the first time this South African summer, a tussle of the willow will play out, perhaps signalling a change in the drawing of battle lines in Test cricket, especially considering the way they have been marked out so far. Last year, bowlers enjoyed their most successful period in a decade. The average runs per wicket stood at 32.47, the lowest since 2000. Test matches everywhere from Cardiff to Hobart saw bursts of wickets dictating results. The two Test matches played this year suggest something different, that may not tempt the hit-and-run fans but that will thrill the rest.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vijendran on January 5, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    flat pitches are not a good thing, you cannot put any spin on it. The "passionate cricket lovers" want to see a even contest between bat and ball, not batsmen effortlessly churning out runs. Kallis' innings in tough conditions eg when india, toured was much more thrilling to watch, i'm sure he will rate those type of knocks over this one.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 6:57 GMT

    Yes Dilshan a good player. But the captaincy is too much for him. I don't refer to this match or I don't even think to bowl first was a bad decision by then. I refer to the last four series. He is not a captaincy material. Mahela is teh best captain Sri lanka have produced. Even Sanga is too defensive at times. I have seen he set field for Murali & Mendis at times that led to leak so many runs & eased the pressure of the opposition. Sanga is a one who waits till things happen sometimes when opposition take the upper hand. He is sometimes negative. Lacks energy. But Mahela has something that he is always eager to make things happen. He never gets bogged down. I have seen he applied tough pressure whenever Murali comes to bowl everytime. He should take it up. I think he can last till the next WC...

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 6:30 GMT

    Players are very less responsible for our failures. It's the Selectors, Coaches and Physios. What's the use of their so called decades of experience ? Behaving and taking decisions so childishly !! At least they cannot understand a pitch ! So sorry !!

  • Satish on January 5, 2012, 4:45 GMT

    It is Dilshan's aggressive 48 that gave SL the momentum the first match and his innings of 78 now gave another momentum.. If SL tolerated with agressive and occasional big score of Sanath, why aren't they tolerating Dilshan.. Plus, are the SL fans happy with Paranavithana's 100 ball 24 than Dilshan's momentum seizing batting? Apart from the first innings where he played a ugly slog in third over, he was decent.. He gets out to aggressive shots but at the same time, scores runs too with the same aggression..

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2012, 1:08 GMT

    its not Dilshan`s decision..Coacher,seniors & team managers all have meetings before taking these decisions b4 toss..Also Mendis,Lakmal,Dilhara,Pradeep all are injured.

  • Ty on January 4, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    Dishan will be taken out of captaincy. He is a shocker !!!!

  • martin on January 4, 2012, 20:32 GMT

    awesome batting from kallis............

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