If ever a batsman there was …

2009-12-17 00:00

YESTERDAY was supposed to be a day to salute another South African legend, but Jacques Kallis stole the headlines with an imperious century on the first day of what promises to be an excellent Test tussle with England.

Kallis, back from a rib injury that will prevent him from bowling, underlined just why Mickey Arthur was so keen to have him back — even as “just a batsman”.

It is sometimes easy to forget that Kallis is one of the finest — and most consistent — batsmen of this generation.

His 32nd Test ton may have lacked the spunk of a J.P. Duminy special or the sparkle of an A.B. de Villiers knock, but it was just the tonic on a day where little went right for skipper Graeme Smith.

Awoken with the news that he had lost his grandfather, Smith then lost what was supposed to be a crucial toss. His day was already over by 10.35 am, though, as he feathered a Stuart Broad delivery down the leg side and was well held by a tumbling Matt Prior.

Smith’s misery would have been worsened by the news that Dale Steyn was not fit enough to take his place as the spearhead of the attack.

When it rains, it surely pours.

So the return of Kallis, the batsman, would have brought mighty relief to the home dressing-room, especially when they were in a spot of bother at 51/2 and then 93/3.

Kallis, of course, has been here many times before with the Proteas.

He simply dug in and played as if he had not been sidelined for almost a month.

Ashwell Prince briefly held the fort with Kallis, but a lazy lunge at Graeme Swann’s second ball saw the left hander snaffled at slip.

De Villiers looked in fine fettle until he also fell to the English tweaker, caught at short-leg by a grateful Alastair Cook.

England, having won the toss and fielded, would have been disappoin­ted with their efforts in the first session — only Graham Onions hit his areas, and he had Hashim Amla in all sorts of strife before a calf strain seriously limited his contribution.

The pitch, with a tinge of green after days of rain ahead of the match, looks likely to get better for batting over the next two days, and South Africa will hope that Kallis and a solid-looking Duminy keep ticking along this morning.

Kallis and the under-fire Duminy will resume a crucial stand of 103 today, and it is their efforts that ensured the Proteas won bragging rights on a most competitive first day.

The rate may have been pedestrian compared to the goings-on Down Under, but then again, these two sides are very well matched and very keen to pip each other.

Kallis’s timely return to the side has certainly given the side stability, but the English will know that the Proteas have a tail longer than most monkeys this week.

Steyn’s absence adds to the pressure upon Makhaya Ntini’s shoulders.

As if concentrating on performing adequately on the occasion of his hundredth Test was not enough, the po­pular paceman will now have to lead a pack of bowlers high on pace and promise — but very light on consis­tency and character.

At some point this afternoon, Ntini will have the ball in hand and a big crowd behind him.

For the first time ever, Centurion had as many Kaizer Chiefs tops as Proteas shirts in the stands. That is the pull of Ntini, and his legion of fans will be hoping he turns up in some style to his own party.

For now, though, the Proteas will do well to doff their collective caps at another national treasure.

Kallis has put the home side marginally ahead for now, but there is still much to be done to win this match. SCOREBOARD

Toss: England

South Africa first innings

G Smith c Prior b Broad0

A Prince c Collingwood b Swann45

H Amla c Collingwood b Onions19

J Kallis not out112

A de Villiers c Cook b Swann32

J Duminy not out38

Extras (1b, 10lb, 5w) 16

Total (for 4 wkts, 90 overs) 262

Fall of wickets: 1-1 (Smith 1.3), 2-51 (Amla 20.5), 3-93 (34.2), 4-159 (De Villiers 54.3)

Bowling: Anderson 23-6-68-0 (1w), Broad 20-6-42-1 (2w), Onions 14-2-53-1 (2w), Swann 24-5-61-2, Collingwood 7-1-18-0, Trott 2-0-9-0

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