Smith century assists Proteas on disappointing pitch – Digicel Test Cricket Report
Both the South African and West Indian captains are opening batsmen. When they met for the toss to commence the Second Digicel Test on a pitch described by legendary former West Indies wicketkeeper and now television analyst, Jeff Dujon, as “a road” it was but a mere formality. Whoever won would have certainly batted on the docile Warner Park track.
It was Graeme Smith who emerged smiling and who could not wait to return to the dressing room to pad up for the day’s action. Chris Gayle broke the bad news to his bowlers, took a long, studied walk back to the dressing room and lathered up the sunscreen.
By the sixth over of the day, it became clear to the smattering of spectators – who opted for live cricket over televised World Cup football – why Smith was uber-eager to take first strike. It was at that early stage that Gayle found it necessary to resort to the left arm spin of Sulieman Benn in order to contain the already rampaging Proteas openers.
Smith was never humbled, he romped to a half century, then to a century, then to 132 before getting out. His fellow opener – right handed rookie Alviro Petersen – played with equal authority but a moment of impetuosity resulted in his dismissal when he would have been thinking that a second career Test century was an inevitability. He got out before lunch – which was taken 15 minutes early due to light rain – but, even by such an early stage, he had already registered a half century, striking 52 from 70 balls with three fours and a pair of sixes.
Smith had reached 45 by the interval but by the next interval – tea, taken at 237 for 2 – he had moved to 107.
By the end of the day when rain threatened throughout but never severely interrupted, South Africa had cruised to a commanding 296 for 3. Penetration of their impregnable batting line-up proved to be a headache for Gayle’s men as they searched, mostly in futility, for breakthroughs. The nature of the pitch required that the West Indies devour any half chances which came their way.
The opposite was true. The Caribbean men, already 0-1 down after the loss in the First Digicel Test, floored three clear chances and were ragged in their ground fielding, letting balls slip every which way as extra runs were had by the Africans.
Smith’s century and Petersen’s half century were supported by an unbeaten 45 by Jacques Kallis and 44 from Hashim Amla who has not yet hit his straps proper in the tests after dominating the Digicel One Day Series with a Man of the Series performance.
Smith on the other hand has had a turnaround in form. He had a forgettable Digicel ODI Series but scored 90 in the second innings of the First Digicel Test in Port of Spain and has now followed up with a century. Smith has a penchant for scoring meaty centuries, eight of his 21 centuries are of 150 runs of more. It would have been a statistic not unknown to the West Indians and, as he motored on, there would have been increasing discomfort in their ranks.
As Petersen volunteered his wicket by sweeping Shane Shillingford to be excellently caught by a running and diving Kemar Roach at fine leg, so too did Smith. Having faced 238 balls, drilled straight drives and clattered nine fours and three sixes (two consecutively off Narsingh Deonarine’s off spin), Smith audaciously looked to pull Kemar Roach forward of square and played on to depart, leaving the score 283 for 3. The second of the two sixes against Deonarine brought up Smith’s 7000th test run and took him into the 90s, following which he eased to his century from 173 deliveries.
In addition to Deonarine’s juicy offerings, Smith benefited from two chances and both against the unlucky Shane Shillingford. When Smith was 79, Shivnarine Chanderpaul spilled him at square leg as the batsman swept. Then when he was 112, wicketkeeper, Denesh Ramdin, grassed an edge as Smith jabbed at a delivery which spun sharply across him.
Post-Smith, there were no further casualties as Kallis and AB de Villiers (7) remained together when poor light brought a premature end to the day with four of the 90 overs short.
Amla – dropped by Gayle at slip off Roach when 14 – made a typically workmanlike 44 from 99 balls with five fours as he and Smith posted 112 for the second wicket on the back end of Smith and Petersen’s 99 run opening stand. Smith and Kallis then posted another 72 before the former’s miscued pull brought his downfall.
All three of the wickets were virtually gifted to the Windies who – Shilingford apart – played a waiting game from early on. The tall Dominican off spinner, playing in only his second test but looking like a veteran operator, toiled manfully from both ends, sending down 31 overs for 91 runs and claimed the wickets of Petersen and Amla who was caught by Dwayne Bravo at slip when six short of a half century.
With Kallis well set, de Villiers in and Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher yet to appear, the Windies may yet spend another day in the field. At least the sun has not been bearing down on them and there are no hoards of fans to get on their backs for their ordinary fielding efforts.