Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers batted through the second session and carried South Africa to a commanding 225 for three at tea on the first day of the first Test against the West Indies at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Wednesday.
Both batsmen were closing in on centuries with Amla on 79 not out and De Villiers on 85 not out, having added 168 for the fourth wicket and thoroughly shifting the momentum after a tough morning session in which South Africa had been sent in to bat in overcast, bowler-friendly conditions.
Kemar Roach had been the best of the West Indies bowlers with two for 28 in 11 overs and he was unfortunate not to bowl Amla on 25 in the first over after lunch as he hit the off stump but the bails merely wobbled without coming off.
The other two West Indian quicks, Jerome Taylor and Sheldon Cottrell, were all at sea as they sprayed the ball around and were duly punished by two of the classiest batsmen in world cricket, Amla and De Villiers collecting 18 fours and a six in the 30 overs bowled after lunch.
While Amla was not entirely on top of his game, he was also fortunate not to be bowled on 33 when he was beaten all ends up by left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn’s arm-ball, De Villiers was all class, marching to his half-century off 78 balls, with 10 fours.
Amla showed why there is so much hype about his wristy strokeplay, however, as he reached his 50 off 87 balls, with seven fours, most of them spanked through the off-side with superb timing.
Apart from the lack of control displayed by Taylor and Cottrell, the West Indians also erred badly in only bowling Roach for five overs in the second session, all of them straight after lunch.
Amla and De Villiers were once again earning themselves gold stars as they steadied South Africa after the loss of three wickets without a run being scored, taking the hosts to 102 for three at lunch.
Amla and De Villiers came together after an amazing collapse saw South Africa slump from 57 without loss to 57 for three, a previously-toothless West Indian attack suddenly taking wickets in three successive overs.
It was an extraordinary turnaround given how poorly the visitors had bowled in the first hour, producing assorted lengths and lines as openers Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar brought up their 50 partnership in just the 10th over.
Petersen was the first to go, getting a start but only making 27 before he pushed at a regulation shortish delivery from Roach and edged it to first slip.
Just seven balls later, Elgar edged a loose drive at a short, wide delivery from Cottrell and was caught by Marlon Samuels in the gully for 28.
It was not smart batting by the South African openers, letting an ill-disciplined West Indies side back into the game, and worse was to follow another seven balls later when Faf du Plessis fell for a duck.
Du Plessis couldn’t resist sparring at a fine delivery from Roach that just shaped away a bit and bounced more than expected, the edge safely taken by wicketkeeper and captain Denesh Ramdin.
South Africa were shaky at 57 for three after being sent in to bat, but Amla and De Villiers are both well-versed in saving the Proteas.
Amla swiped three fours through the off-side off Taylor, while De Villiers played himself in, playing straight and reaching 16 not out at the interval.
With debutant Stiaan van Zyl and young Quinton de Kock next to bat, South Africa’s hopes of a good total probably rested on their two best batsmen putting together a sizeable partnership and that has been achieved.