Battling Rhodes puts Natal in charge at Kingsmead
With splendid support from the Amla brothers, Jonty Rhodes battled to his 17th first-class century to give the KwaZulu-Natal Dolphins the initiative on the third day of the SuperSport Series final against the Northerns Titans at Kingsmead on Saturday.
Rhodes was unbeaten on 125 when bad light brought an early close to the day with Natal comfortably placed on 296 for three for a lead of 224. With two days remaining the Titans are by no means out of it, but Natal need only a draw to add the SuperSport Series title to the Standard Bank Cup already residing in their trophy cabinet.
Rhodes was in as early as the fourth over of the morning after Doug Watson had gone quickly and he shared partnerships of 152 for the second wicket with Ahmed Amla and 131 for the third wicket with the younger brother Hashim as the home side wiped out the 72-run first innings deficit and then built their own lead.
Rhodes has retired from Test cricket, but he struck a rich vein of form in the just completed one-day series against Australia and he has carried it into this final despite taking a battering from Steve Elworthy.
The Titans fast bowler, who took his 50th SuperSport Series wicket of the season when he bowled Hashim Amla shortly before the close, struck Rhodes on the wrist during his 74 in the first innings and hit him again on Saturday, a bruising blow to the shoulder which left the batsman in obvious discomfort.
But Rhodes fought his way through to emphasise again what a hole his retirement has left in the South African Test team.
Watson made only 12 before he played a peculiar shot against Greg Smith, half-pulling a delivery that took the edge and was well held by Gerald Dros, using all his height to pull in the catch at slip.
After a circumspect start, the older Amla gradually found his timing as he and Rhodes lifted the score to 165 for two. Finally Amla was bowled by the offspinner Shafiek Abrahams for 75. It was only his second first-class 50 of the season, but it came at an ideal time for Natal.
The younger Amla, Hashim, continued to impress as a fine prospect in making 74, presumably in deference to Ahmed. With the light fading and Elworthy using the second new ball, he had his off stump knocked back as he pushed forward. The wicket fell at 296 and only two more balls were bowled before the umpires decided that the light was unfit for play.
The match is nicely balanced, but Titans suffered what might prove a crucial blow during the afternoon when Smith was taken to hospital complaining of heart palpitations. If he cannot bowl on Sunday, Northerns will have their work cut out restricting Natal to a manageable fourth innings target.