AB century inspires tail as Proteas move into commanding position

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 11: AB de Villiers of South Africa celebrates scoring 100 runs during day 3 of the 2nd Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and Australia at St Georges Park on March 11, 2018 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 11: AB de Villiers of South Africa celebrates scoring 100 runs during day 3 of the 2nd Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and Australia at St Georges Park on March 11, 2018 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

INSPIRED by AB de Villiers’ record sixth century against Australia and his 22nd overall, the Standard Bank Proteas lower-order replaced the drought of Durban with the runs feast of Port Elizabeth to make an important contribution to their side’s commanding position on day three of the second Sunfoil Test match at St. George’s Park on Sunday.

The combined effort of De Villiers and the tail gave the Proteas a healthy first innings lead of 139 and, although a fighting partnership between Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Marsh enabled them to wipe out the deficit, they had to pay a heavy price and by the close were an effective 41/5 with the second new ball only 17 overs away.

As has happened in the past De Villiers gave the impression of being on a different planet to all the other batsmen on both sides. His unbeaten 126 came off just 146 balls (20 fours and a six) came at a rate far quicker than anybody else had managed before he ran out of partners when Lungi Ngidi was run out. And it would have come even quicker but for the fact that he had to shepherd his less talented partners as Australia were prepared to give him singles to attack the tail.

His six centuries against Australia puts him one ahead of the previous record he shared with two legends of the past – Graeme Pollock and Eddie Barlow – as well as two of his modern contemporaries – Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla. His 22nd century overall puts him one ahead of Gary Kirsten and gives him fourth position outright on South Africa’s all-time list with only Kallis, Amla and Graeme Smith ahead of him.

In the context of the match and series position, today’s century ranks alongside his fourth innings century (also unbeaten) to enable the Proteas to chase down a total in excess of 400 at Perth in 2008 as his best effort against these redoubtable opponents.

Remarkably, he has yet to be dismissed by a bowler in the series, having run out of first innings partners both here and at Durban and being run out in the second innings at Durban.

In the first Test match the Proteas only managed to put on 12 runs for the last four wickets in the first innings and 15 in the second. The big turnaround here saw the last four wickets contribute 199 to the total. And one should also not forget the contribution that Kagiso Rabada as night watchman made to the second wicket partnership of 45 with Dean Elgar.

Vernon Philander (36 off 85 balls, 5 fours) and Keshav Maharaj, who later claimed the important wicket of Steve Smith (30 off 24 balls, 3 fours and 2 sixes), provided the support De Villiers needed to reach his century – the first since he restarted his Test career at the start of this season.

Rabada has continued to have a huge match, adding 3 second innings wickets so far to the 5 he took in the first innings. His new ball spell this afternoon was special as he bowled with pace, accuracy and hostility and was rewarded with the important wicket of David Warner. In later spells he added Shaun Marsh and Khawaja to the list after the latter had shared a stand of 87 with Mitchell Marsh.

Overall it was a wonderful day of Test cricket with almost 300 runs being scored for the loss of 8 wickets.