South Africa 308 for 6 (Rudolph 101, McKenzie 76) v West Indies
The first day of the third Test at Cape Town followed an all too familiar pattern, with South Africa's batsmen largely untroubled by indifferent bowling and mediocre fielding. By the close they had reached 308 for 6, built on a patient hundred from Jacques Rudolph, although three late wickets gave West Indies a foothold back in the match which seemed unlikely until the last five overs.
Rudolph's century was perhaps more important personally than it was in the context of the match. Since making a double-hundred and a fifty in his first two Tests against Bangladesh in May, he had managed 214 runs in seven matches at 17.83 with only one fifty. Under pressure from the media, Graeme Smith had further upped the ante by publicly demanding that some players - of which Rudolph was clearly one - to produce the goods.
That he did. The pressure might not have been on the team, but his cautious start clearly showed it was on him. He maintained a constant tempo throughout, displaying admirable patience. Driving and cutting with confidence, he reached his fifty in 142 minutes off 102 balls and his hundred in 254 minutes off 196 balls. There have been many better hundreds, certainly more entertaining ones, but the capacity crowd at Newlands rose as one when he reached his century, as aware as Rudolph himself that it was an innings which had bought him much-needed time. He undermined some of his hard work when shortly afterwards he was leg-before for 101 attempting an ugly cross-batted heave to give Dave Mohammed his first Test scalp.
That aside, it was not exactly stirring stuff for what was far and away the best turnout of a poorly attended series. But the weather was sunny throughout and there were enough moments to keep them satisfied.
On a good Newlands pitch which made Smith's decision to bat a formality, West Indies' weak attack - with the exception of the impressive Adam Sanford - again eschewed the basics of line and length and paid the penalty. And as for their fielding ...
Four of the five wickets West Indies did take owed more to batsman error than bowling cunning. Herschelle Gibbs (33) played a real curate's egg of an innings, unleashing three exquisite fours as well as limply edging the erratic Fidel Edwards to gully - where Mohammed spilt a routine chance - and inside-edging past his off stump. Eventually, Sanford gave Gibbs enough width for him to nibble indecisively and wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs held the catch (70 for 1).
Smith (42) had weathered the early assault from Edwards and Vasbert Drakes, and was growing in confidence until in the over before lunch Sanford got the ball to leave him and the edge flew to first slip where Lara held a routine catch (90 for 2).
The afternoon continued in the same vein, with South Africa making steady and unexciting progress. Kallis and Jacques Rudolph plodded on, but as they looked to up the tempo Kallis was struck a painful blow on his right elbow attempting to pull Edwards. He soldiered on briefly before, grimacing, he retired hurt. X-rays revealed no break and he will be fit to resume tomorrow.
Gary Kirsten's arrival slowed things down again, and when he had scored 16 he provided West Indies with their only wicket of the afternoon when he uncharacteristically slashed at another wide ball from Edwards and Sanford at third man hardly had to move to take the catch (162 for 3).
Neil McKenzie looked to inject pace into proceedings, lofting Mohammed for a glorious straight six on the stroke of tea, and then eased off as he concentrated on seeing Rudolph through to his hundred. Rudolph's dismissal (304 for 4) was soon followed by two others which gave the scorecard a more balanced appearance than had ever seemed likely. Paul Adams, the nightwatchman, was comprehensively bowled for 0 by a rare straight ball from Edwards (305 for 5), and then McKenzie (76) was caught creasebound on the back foot by Mohammed and his defensive jab spun back into his stumps (306 for 6).
The late wickets flattered West Indies whose bowling was at times dreadful and only occasionally threatening. At no time after the first five overs did they exert any sustained pressure. The lack of control was highlighted when Lara looked to squeeze Rudolph as he neared his hundred. He set a 7-2 offside field and Sanford immediately served up a half-volley on leg stump which was clipped away for four. Lara tried, but a genius would have struggled to work with the tools on offer.
Just as much to blame were the fielders, who once again failed to support their bowlers with shabby fielding which on several occasions would have embarrassed a club cricketer. Having been outbatted and outbowled in the first two Tests, that was one area of their game they couldn't afford to let slip.
And yet they start the second day very much in the match. Lara will know that they can't afford any more lacklustre displays like this. They are unlikely to be let off the hook for a second time.
South Africa 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 Jacques Rudolph, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Gary Kirsten, 6 Neil McKenzie, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Paul Adams, 10 Makhaya Ntini, 11 Andre Nel.
West Indies 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Daren Ganga, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Wavell Hinds, 6 Ridley Jacobs (wk), 7 Dwayne Smith, 8 Vasbert Drakes, 9 Dave Mohammed, 10 Adam Sanford, 11 Fidel Edwards.