Smith ton puts SA in early command
It all went to prediction after South Africa won the toss on a road of a pitch at Warner Park. The top order capitalised on excellent batting conditions and a tepid display in the field to set a platform for a massive first-innings score. At the helm was Graeme Smith, who made a fortuitous century, supported by valuable contributions from Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and some ordinary catching. It was hard work for the hosts who had to derive inspiration from themselves rather than turn to a barely audible crowd, going by the disappointing numbers on the opening day.
Despite the fielding, it was an efficient performance from South Africa. Smith did not allow himself to get bogged down and managed to keep the scoreboard moving with singles and twos. He was also allowed to settle in early, play co-pilot to Petersen in the opening session and then take charge from there on.
The West Indies seamers failed to pick on his prime weakness, which is the ball that darts back in from a round-the-wicket line. He has suffered in the past to left-arm quicks, but though West Indies didn't have one of their own, none of their right-armers changed their line of attack to create opportunities. Also missing was the slower off cutter from Dwayne Bravo which has foxed him in the past.
Bravo pitched it too full and wide outside off and Smith found his groove as he planted his right foot across to the pitch of the ball to put it away through the gaps. Bravo strengthened the off side field with a short cover but Smith beat that as well, even slashing one safely over gully. He pinched easy singles to the off side and with the ball coming on to the bat easily, he was able to rock back and pull deliveries from outside the off stump. Shane Shillingford tucked him up on a few occasions with his round-the-wicket line, also restricting him with a silly mid-on, but Smith was willing to be patient, focusing more on steady accumulation.
The aggression was on show only as he neared his century. He tonked the part-timer Narsingh Deonarine for consecutive sixes over long-on to pass 7000 Test runs, before sweeping the same bowler to fine leg to bring up his 21st century. It was a comeback of sorts for Smith after suffering hand and elbow injuries over the last few years.
Luck favoured him on at least three occasions. A thin leading edge fell short of slip shortly after lunch, a chipped sweep was fluffed by Shivnarine Chanderpaul at square leg when on 79 and a thin edge brushed Denesh Ramdin's gloves on 112. It wasn't just Smith who got away. Hashim Amla, who added 112 with Smith for the second wicket, was let off on 14 when a thick outside edge sailed past Chris Gayle, who was too late to react at second slip when Kemar Roach was in the middle of an encouraging second spell.
Roach struggled with no-balls - six of them - in his opening spell. With the older ball, his accuracy improved but not his discipline. The over-stepping bug didn't leave him, but he did create some opportunities with a hint of reverse swing. Usually, bowlers find it easier to use the shiny side of the ball to get the ball back in, but Roach tried to move it away from the right-hander and as a result Amla was unsure of his off stump. Roach started pitching the ball up a lot more, trying to extract swing with the cloud cover to assist him.
That was perhaps West Indies best chance of breaking through. Shillingford was the best bowler on view, getting turn and tucking up Smith from both sides of the wicket. The batsmen weren't afraid to use their feet, but it didn't deter him from flighting the ball. He got the wicket of Amla, edging to slip before tea. He started tiring in the final session, as he dropped the ball short to Smith and was spanked through the off side.
West Indies didn't take the new ball, despite Roach coming on for a new spell. He managed to get the crucial wicket of Smith, dragging one from outside off and edging to his middle stump. South Africa had the well-set Kallis at the crease at the end, with AB de Villiers for company. Kallis had set off in fifth gear, scoring his first 22 runs off just 16 balls, but as the final session wore on, he struggled to pick the gaps.
Kallis may have struggled to get going towards the end, but at the start of the day, Petersen's fluency was the highlight. Ravi Rampaul managed to extract some away swing but was too often wide of the off stump, allowing Petersen some flowing drives through the off side. When Rampaul banged it in short, Petersen pulled past square leg. He used his feet against the spinners and even bent down to unfurl the slog sweeps. A fine catch by Roach, running forward from long leg, ended his innings on 52. Had West Indies pounced on more such opportunities as Roach did, the balance would have been more even at the end of the day.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo