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Gibbs century sets up impressive South African reply in First Test

So much, someone noted, for being a bowler-friendly pitch

Peter Robinson
So much, someone noted, for being a bowler-friendly pitch. The first Castle Lager/MTN Test match at Goodyear Park continued to move along apace on Sunday as South Africa replied to India's 379 all out with 327 for three. In two days some 706 runs have been scored for the loss of 13 wickets. It's a good thing that the Bloemfontein groundsman didn't prepare a flat track.
By the end of the second day South Africa had just about made up all the ground lost on the first day when Sachin Tendulkar tore into the home team. Shaun Pollock's decision to ask India to bat was still probably the right one in the circumstances - India, remember, had slipped to 68 for four before Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag pulled the innings around - but by the second afternoon the pitch had settled into a perfect batting strip.
The South Africans took just a ball more than five overs in the morning to wrap up the Indian innings for the addition of only a further seven runs, and then Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten gave the home side the ideal start.
A good deal has been said and written about the pair of left-arm seamers brought to South Africa by India, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. On Sunday the South Africans had their first look at them and they were, in all honesty, deeply disappointing.
Neither was able to generate any zip; neither found any significant movement, either through the air or off the pitch; and neither really troubled the South African batsmen at any stage.
With Harbhajan Singh missing, India were effectively reduced to two bowlers, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, and the South Africans cashed in. Gibbs had scored three Test centuries prior to this match, all away from home. He made up for this gap in his CV handsomely as he and Kirsten put on 189 for the first wicket.
Interestingly, it was only the pair's fourth century for South Africa. The pair have played so well together, both at Test and one-day level, that you would have imagined this number to be far higher. No matter, they batted beautifully together with Gibbs, as might have been expected, shifting the innings along with slightly more urgency.
Gibbs has the ability to construct completely unexpected strokes and take the best of attacks apart. Bearing this in mind, it was almost impossible to understand what Sourav Ganguly was up to when he had Zaheer go around the wicket and bowl to an eight-one offside field at one point. For Gibbs, the angle of delivery and the wide open spaces to leg were an invitation he accepted enthusiastically, reaching his century with a huge six over square leg.
The landmark precipitated a mini-collapse as both openers fell within six balls of one another. Kirsten was bowled for 73, heaving across the line against Kumble and Gibbs then lifted a drive against Javagal Srinath, offering up a waist-high catch to mid off for 107.
It was, in many respects, a great pity he got out. He had set himself up to launch an almighty onslaught against this disjointed Indian attack and the tourists must have heaved a sight of relief as he wandered back to the dressing room.
If the Indians thought they had broken the back of the innings, however, they were mistaken. Jacques Kallis and Neil McKenzie carved out a 130-run partnership for the third wicket before McKenzie was out leg before to Kumble without offering a shot for 68 in the final over of the day. Kallis, though, is still there on 49. He has now batted for 1 176 minutes and scored 437 runs since he was last dismissed in a Test match.
The Indian lead is 52 but if the South Africans bat sensibly on the third day they could realistically aim for a lead of at least 200 on the first innings. Gibbs said afterwards that the pitch, lively on the first day, had become an ideal strip for Test cricket.
"It's a bit quicker than yesterday," he said. "It's coming through quite nicely now. The boys can play their shots, It's turning into a really nice wicket."
Gibbs acknowledged that South Africa had not bowled well on the first day. "As a batter I can't understand how bowlers can come into a Test match and not know what line and length to bowl," he said. "(Bowling coach) Corrie (van Zyl) had a word with them this morning and let them know what they were doing wrong."
Gibbs, though, is nothing if not a cheerful group of contradictions, and, moments after being baffled by South Africa's bowling, he happily admitted that the shot he got out to was a one-day stroke, a half-volley that he'd tried to hit over the top.
He would not pick a number for the lead South Africa will be looking for as they go into the third day, but did acknowledge that "we can enough to put them under pressure".