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At Durban and Cape Town earlier this season, Jacques Kallis celebrated his Christmas and New Year by grinding England's bowlers deep into the dust. On the fifth day at Guyana, it was West Indies' turn to feel the broad face of his blade, as he batted for a marathon 411 minutes and 346 balls to save South Africa from a humiliating first-Test defeat. In all, South Africa batted for 161 overs to save the game, exactly the same as an Andy-Flower-inspired Zimbabwe had managed against India at Nagpur in 2000-01.
Only last month, Kallis entered the record-books at the opposite end, with a record-breaking 24-ball fifty against Zimbabwe at Newlands. That innings, however, seemed like the product of a parallel universe. On this occasion, Kallis played out dot-ball after dot-ball, and slowly reeled in West Indies' massive 355-run first-innings advantage. In doing so, he became the second South African after Gary Kirsten to pass 7000 Test runs, and he also drew level with Kirsten's national record of 21 hundreds.
It was an innings as sombre as the Pope's requiem mass, and it reached uncharted depths of introspection in the 30-over session after lunch, when he and the uncharacteristically subdued Herschelle Gibbs batted clean through to tea for the addition of a tortuous 45 runs, with scarcely a false shot on display. Though Kallis lifted his tempo once his century was in sight, his concentration did not flicker. He had, after all, already been given his one, crucial, reprieve.
When Kallis had made just 22, and after 17 overs of the final day's play, West Indies were finally eligible to take the second new ball. But Shivnarine Chanderpaul opted instead to turn to spin, with himself and the offspinner Narsingh Deonarine, bowling in tandem. If it was a bid to tempt South Africa out of their torpor, then the move so nearly paid dividends. Kallis chopped eagerly at Chanderpaul's fifth delivery, but the thin edge clanged in and out of Courtney Browne's gloves.
Deonarine soon gained some consolation, as Rudolph was trapped lbw by a scuttling legbreak for 24, but the moment had been lost. It was not Browne's only error, either. On 20, Jacques Rudolph had tickled too finely at a legside delivery from Daren Powell, but the chance was badly missed, with Browne dropping a lazy right glove on the ball. Despite his heroics in the final of the Champions Trophy last September, Browne is now 34 and on this showing, he cannot expect to keep Carlton Baugh out of the team for much longer.
Missed catches were not the only way in which West Indies failed to help their own cause. Chanderpaul's field placings were so negative that the first sign of pressure around the bat came in the penultimate over before tea, even though South Africa had set the tone for the day in the very first hour, with Kallis and Rudolph maintaining a grim struggle for survival at a run-rate of less than 1.5 an over. The new ball was finally taken after 93 overs, with 45 minutes to go until lunch, but Gibbs and Kallis remained unseparated for 67 deadpan overs.
The match was sparked out of its slumber as the shadows lengthened, when Gibbs, on 49, shaped to leave a leg-stump delivery from Ryan Hinds but looked on aghast as the ball tweaked past the pad and cannoned into off. That left Mark Boucher to fend off a tricky 18 deliveries that included a touch of mischievous bounce, but in the end, Chanderpaul was forced to yield to Kallis's unbending will.
Kallis has now scored a phenomenal five centuries in five consecutive matches against West Indies, dating back to the opening fixture of the 2003-04 series. In that time, he has amassed 821 runs at an average of 164.20. All the more reason to take the chances when they come begging.
And yet, regardless of the disappointing ending, it was nonetheless a match from which West Indies could take huge pleasure - particularly Chanderpaul, who was rightly named Man of the Match for a double-century on his captaincy debut. West Indies had entered the game with nothing to lose, and left it feeling they had lost out. Clearly, something of substance must have taken place in the intervening five days.
de Villiers b King 20 (46 for 1) Inside-edge onto his stumps, trying to force through off side
Smith b Collins 34 (68 for 2) Flashy drive, inside-edge onto middle-and-leg
Rudolph lbw b Deonarine 24 (119 for 3) Hit low on pad by legbreak, might have clipped leg stump
Gibbs b R Hinds 49 (258 for 4) Misjudgment - padded up, lost off stump