AB’S 99 puts Proteas on top
Sri Lanka under pressure as Boucher, Prince find form
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.
FOUR PENCE: AB de Villiers hammers the ball to the boundary during his innings of 99 against Sri Lanka yesterday.