SA batter WI on opening day

South Africa assumed complete control on the first day of this deciding Test against West Indies at Kingsmead, Durban.

If Graeme Smith was asked, before play begun, what would be his dream day, I am sure today would not have been far off the mark. It began by winning the toss and inserting West Indies into bat on a track that was expected to assist the South African bowling attack.

A combination of excellent bowling and loose strokeplay meant West Indies were reduced to 33-5 before the lower order swung their way to something vaguely near respectability for the visitors.

When a side are bowled out before tea on the opening day, the pressure is always going to be felt by their bowlers and so it showed as South Africa sauntered to 213-1 at the close, feasting on a host of loose deliveries from West Indies pace quartet. Smith’s day was complete when he finished not out at the close on 122, Hashim Amla the other unbeaten batsman on 55.

West Indies gave a debut to opening bat Brenton Parchment with Dwayne Bravo taking over the captaincy role in the absence of Chris Gayle. Darren Sammy was welcomed back into the side at the expense of spinner Rawl Lewis. For South Africa, Shaun Pollock made a return to Test cricket on his home ground, again it was a spinner that was excluded, Paul Harris the unlucky man and Herschelle Gibbs’ Test exile was a brief one as he replaced the injured Neil McKenzie.

Dale Steyn, who was deemed fit enough to play, and Makhaya Ntini took the new ball but it was not long before Pollock was introduced and as you would expect from the canny seamer, a typically accurate and professional display that resulted in him taking 4-35 off 11 overs.

Steyn struck first however, producing the perfect outswinger that Daren Ganga had to play at but edged to the safe hands of Graeme Smith at first slip. Pollock took care of Runako Morton, who thrust his pad forward clearly unsure of what Pollock was doing off the track and debutant Parchment, who was dismissed thanks to an outstanding catch from Gibbs who flung himself, from his gully position, full length to his right and caught an outrageous one-handed catch.

Marlon Samuels loosely drove at one from Ntini before the big wicket of Shiv Chanderpaul arrived and played a particularly un-Chanderpaul stroke so early in his innings, tentatively driving at a ball slanted across him on nought with Jacques Kallis making no mistake in slips.

Despite the helpful assistance of this Kingsmead pitch, the ball still had to be delivered in the right areas for the track to be effective. That the South Africa attack achieved that and the West Indies side were found wanting against a moving ball, inevitably led to a poor first innings score and a review of some of the questionable techniques in this visiting line up.

At this point they were all at sea, their mainstay Chanderpaul had been and gone and they seemed inept of finding any way to counter the movement that was on show.

Wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin decided to take the attack to the Proteas and had made 30 from 25 balls before he played with hard hands to a delivery outside off stump from Andre Nel, meaning he followed captain Bravo quickly back to the shed. The skipper had got a beauty from Pollock that bounced steeply off a length, Gibbs the beneficiary of both these catches in gully.

Darren Sammy, Jerome Taylor and Daren Powell made what would have been useful contributions if their top order had not been removed so cheaply.

South Africa may feel that West Indies made around 40 runs more than they should have, but I am sure a total of 139 would have been something the bowling side would have accepted as good enough before play begun. Nel was expensive yet weighed in with three wickets.

As is so often the case with such a small total on the board, the bowling side now strive to take a wicket every ball as they know they cannot afford a partnership to take place. Consequently a host of boundary scoring opportunities presented themselves and Smith and Gibbs, the old partnership re-united, were in no mood to simply watch them go by. The openers raced to 50 off 7.3 overs with Gibbs particularly savage on any width on offer, then again you would not expect anything else from him.

Just as Gibbs intimated he may be rediscovering his touch with spanking drives through the off side and even a maximum over point, he played on executing a pull shot off Powell. It was a tame end for Gibbs, in reflection a back foot push into the offside would have served him better, although the ball did not climb as high as anticipated.

West Indies gameplan seemed erratic and too frequently the bowlers displayed ill-discipline and were unable to control the flow of boundaries. Graeme Smith worked 14 boundaries onto the leg side alone. Their lines of attack were not consistent enough and Bravo had trouble setting any kind of field to such inaccuracy, a tough initiation indeed. His attack was not finding anything like the kind of movement Pollock and co. had found, although the South Africans did have the distinct advantage of using the new ball on this track first thing this morning where the ball was always likely to move around in an exaggerated fashion.

Hashim Amla came in and got set allowing the runs to flow naturally without the need to force the issue. West Indies must be aware of his strengths on the on side, yet still they bowled too straight allowing to work the ball away with considerable ease. As they over compensated to exact their errors, too much width gave Amla the chance to cut and drive to the boundary. Jerome Taylor was the most economical of the West Indies attack, he at least tried to remain patient and stick to old fashioned virtues such as line and length.

When Smith is out of his nick, his technique comes under severe scrutiny, the way he works the ball square off the legs but today he hit powerfully through mid-on and rarely missed a scoring opportunity. His hundred came off only 112 balls, his fastest ever century (barring his effort against Zimbabwe), his thirteenth in Test cricket and sixth against West Indies.

West Indies will need to re-group and fast, starting by breaking the 160 run partnership between Smith and Amla, or tomorrow is going to be another very long day.

West Indies 139 all out
Denesh Ramdin 30
Shaun Pollock 4-35, Andre Nel 3-45

South Africa 213-1
Graeme Smith 122*, Hashim Amla 55*

South Africa lead by 74 runs

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