The Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers record partnership was like an express train gaining momentum as they powered South Africa to a commanding 340 for three at stumps on the first day of the first Test against the West Indies at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Wednesday.
The pair looked unstoppable as they added an unbroken 283 for the fourth wicket, a record for South Africa against all teams, beating the 249 Jacques Kallis and Gary Kirsten put on against the West Indies in Durban in 2003/04.
They were brought together when South Africa had been rocked by three quick wickets, pacemen Kemar Roach and Sheldon Cottrell striking three times in three overs as the hosts slumped from 57 without loss to 57 for three.
But with superb shot-selection, a positive mindset and magnificent skill, Amla and De Villiers completely turned the momentum around.
Amla finished the day on 133 not out, his 23rd Test century and first against the West Indies, batting for 290 minutes, facing 242 balls and stroking 17 fours.
De Villiers came to the crease five minutes later than his captain and reached stumps on 141 not out, his 20th Test century and fifth against the West Indies, having faced 211 deliveries, hitting 15 fours and two sixes.
“The pitch flattened out a little bit in the afternoon and we made it work for us. It was a pretty decent day although it felt a bit weird in the beginning because we haven’t played Test cricket in such a long time. I told Hash that the first minutes we spent out there felt like a full day already, it really felt very long, and I just tried to take it one ball at a time,” De Villiers said after the close of play.
“We were in trouble at 57 for three, they bowled well up front. We tried to just hang in there as much as possible and leave well because there was some juice in the pitch and the ball was shaping quite a bit. The second and third session the wicket flattened out a bit and we managed to capitalise. I hope we can go on, 340 is a good total on the first day and if we can get close to 500 it would be ideal,” Amla said.
Amla was being kind because the West Indies horribly wasted a good toss to win and the new ball in overcast, bowler-friendly conditions. Their lack of control meant openers Alviro Petersen and Dean Elgar weren’t just happy for their daily bread but rather a boundary ball practically every over as they raced to 50 in the 10th over.
But neither opener had the considerable stores of patience and concentration that mark Amla and De Villiers out as greats of the game and they both departed within seven balls of each other.
Petersen had moved briskly to 27 with six fours before getting out when well set, as he has done so often in the recent past, edging a back-foot push at an innocuous delivery from Roach to first slip.
Elgar’s decision to flash loosely at a short, wide delivery from left-armer Cottrell in the next over was not a smart one and he was caught in the gully for 28.
The West Indies’ decision to bowl first then looked fully justified as Faf du Plessis followed a Roach delivery that shaped away from him, edging behind to captain Denesh Ramdin for a duck and South Africa were vulnerable to a knockout punch on 57 for three.
“At 57 for three, it didn’t look as if there was any gulf between the sides and bowling first looked a good option with the pitch under covers for all day yesterday. We were starting to abuse Hashim for losing the toss!” Proteas coach Russell Domingo joked.
By lunch, Amla and De Villiers had taken South Africa to 102 for three – the West Indies still ahead on points – but by tea it was the tourists who had been knocked to the canvas as the home side had cruised to 225 for three.
Amla had two moments of good fortune, Roach hitting the stumps in the first over after lunch when he had 25 but extraordinarily failing to dislodge the bails, and left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn also coming very close to bowling him with an arm-ball when he had 33.
By stumps the battering was complete, the West Indies having lost Roach, their best bowler, to injury, and the first day’s action certainly points to the fragile West Indian batsmen having a massive total to match.