AB’S 99 puts Proteas on top

Sri Lanka un­der pres­sure as Boucher, Prince find form

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

AB DE VIL­LIERS is never any­thing less than en­ter­tain­ing in his ap­proach to the game.

He buzzes around in the field, pulls off breath-tak­ing catches and stops and his bat­ting is all about show­ing off his glit­ter­ing ar­ray of strokes – well it used to be any­way.

The story goes that af­ter he made 42 in the Lord’s Test in 2008, but got out at crit­i­cal time try­ing to play one shot too many, he was ad­mon­ished in the dress­in­groom by then coach Mickey Arthur and skip­per Graeme Smith.

De Vil­liers didn’t take kindly to be­ing dressed down in that man­ner in front of his team­mates, and put on a sulk that in­cluded bury­ing him­self in a Jef­frey Archer novel on the last day of that Test as the top or­der put on a ter­rific sal­vaging job.

De Vil­liers re­deemed him­self in the next Test mak­ing a mag­nif­i­cent 174 that pro­vided the foun­da­tion for a com­pre­hen­sive win at Head­in­g­ley.

The cir­cum­stances in this match weren’t as des­per­ate as in Leeds three years ago, but South Africa was in dan­ger of once again un-do­ing the good work of the bowlers on the first day.

Sri Lanka de­serve credit for mak­ing ex­cel­lent use of con­di­tions still very favourable to the seam bowlers.

How­ever where South Africa have a set of quicks ca­pa­ble of touch­ing 145km/h, Sri Lanka are more re­liant on ac­cu­racy, ac­tu­ally a trait Ver­non Philander used with much suc­cess on day one.

The South Africans gave the Sri Lankans some hope with night-watch­man Dale Steyn run­ning out in the sec­ond over of the day.

Hashim Amla then fell in course of try­ing to dom­i­nate the tourists.

This­ara Per­era and to a lesser ex­tent Chanaka Welegedara bowled pur­pose­fully and weren’t al­ways backed up by their team­mates whose catch­ing in the first two ses­sions was poor.

Dil­hara Fer­nando is the one Sri Lankan bowler who is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing un­set­tling pace, though like Morne Morkel, his radar is way out of sync in this Test.

Still he struck Jac­ques Kal­lis be­hind the left ear with a nasty bouncer that floored the great all­rounder for al­most 10 min­utes. Even the lunch- break wasn’t enough to ease Kal­lis’ ten­sion, with Welegedara ben­e­fit­ting af­ter the in­ter­val as a ten­ta­tive Kal­lis edged one to third slip to be out for 31.

SA were still seven runs short of Sri Lanka’s first in­nings to­tal.

By then though De Vil­liers had set­tled in – as much as one can on a pitch where the ball is de­vi­at­ing both ways and the ball, even 60 overs old bounce’s ap­pre­cia­bly – and pro­duced a ter­rific ef­fort, re­ly­ing on pa­tience and very de­lib­er­ate stroke-play.

It was he who ear­lier in the week talked about the im­por­tance of ab­sorb­ing pres­sure and to­gether with Ash­well Prince, for­tu­itously on the lit­tle left-han­der’s part, he did just that.

There was some el­e­gant shot­mak­ing es­pe­cially down the ground from De Vil­liers, while the pair also ran well be­tween the wick­ets, max­imis­ing their op­por­tu­ni­ties to score.

Grad­u­ally he be­came more com­fort­able, and one pull shot off Fer­nando in the 81st over, saw the Sri Lankans aban­don any plans to see if they could re­verse swing the old ball, and im­me­di­ately switched to a new one.

Where De Vil­liers was all ef­fi­cient el­e­gance, Prince fought him­self as much as the Sri Lankans.

It wasn’t pretty, but yes­ter­day it didn’t have to be, his side needed him to bat time and to score – he did both as part of a 97run sixth-wicket stand, the value of which will be­come clear this week­end.

Prince’s in­nings un­sur­pris­ingly ended when he edged the im­pres­sive Mathews to wick­et­keeper Kaushal Silva by which stage South Africa’s lead had grown to 90.

De Vil­liers’s dis­missal was a sur­prise. He had just pro­duced a se­ries of lovely shots – ad­mit­tedly off some aw­ful bowl­ing by Fer­nando – be­fore go­ing to 99 with a de­light­ful late cut off Per­era.

Then dis­as­ter. In at­tempt­ing a sim­i­lar stroke, he picked out the fielder at back­ward point and to his and the crowd’s bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment he was out.

A cen­tury was de­served, but the warm ap­plause from his home fans and his team­mates spoke to their recog­ni­tion of the value of De Vil­liers’ ef­fort.

Late in the day, Mark Boucher, showed there was still plenty of life left in him, mak­ing a gritty un­beaten 49, as part of a won­der­fully fun 39-run part­ner­ship with Im­ran Tahir, who showed he’s got a lot more to his bat­ting than a waft out­side off-stump.

Sri Lanka’s com­mit­ment was ad­mirable, their catch­ing in the first two ses­sions ter­ri­ble, but ul­ti­mately they will look back on a first in­nings where they sim­ply didn’t score suf­fi­cient runs.

To­day they must try and keep them­selves afloat in this match – the deficit is 209 – and on a pitch which is slightly eas­ier to bat on than was the case on the first day, although still heav­ily weighted in favour of the bowlers, they will at least hope to stretch the match into to­mor­row.

An­gelo Mathews had an MRI scan on his groin. A de­ci­sion on whether he can con­tinue in this Test is likely to be made this morn­ing.

AP Photo

FOUR PENCE: AB de Vil­liers ham­mers the ball to the bound­ary dur­ing his in­nings of 99 against Sri Lanka yes­ter­day.

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