West Indies have rarely looked more bereft. They are at least fulfilling their tour of South Africa, but if they are there in body, they are hardly there in spirit. A weak attack, further broken by an injury to Kemar Roach, looks as if it is already awaiting the end. And it is only lunch on the second day.
Hashim Amla looked as if he had some statistics to enhance, unperturbed in moving to an unbeaten 178 not out by the interval. Stiaan van Zyl soon conquered initial concerns to reach a debut Test half-century. There was a moment of optimism for West Indies when they dismissed AB de Villiers, but it quickly departed. South Africa steadily built a 109-run morning.
It would be understandable if South Africa approached the second day with an air of supreme confidence: 340 runs already banked for the loss of three wickets and hundreds for de Villiers and Amla long since achieved. On a beautiful, sun-cream morning, they could anticipate some contented batting. The advent of the second new ball did not alter that.
Almost carelessly, it seemed, they lost de Villiers in the ninth over of the session. The ball from Sulieman Benn was lavishly flighted and scientists might have concluded that it turned and bounced just a tad, but there was nothing malevolent in the delivery. De Villiers, seeking to carve it through the off side, could only pick out Jermaine Blackwood at backward point.
The fourth-wicket stand, extended by another 25, was worth 308 in 84 overs. West Indies had picked up a wicket but there was no sense that it might change the nature of the day. Four frontline bowlers and Kemar Roach, arguably the best of them, already off the field injured. Jerome Taylor bowled within himself, anticipating a long day. Even allowing for West Indies’ decline, they had rarely seemed as impotent as this.
Even on such an unflustered morning there had to be nerves. How could there not be with a debutant arriving at the crease? A debutant, too, who had been next in since the 16th over of the first morning. Van Zyl, a left-hander from Cape Cobras, was used to waiting – his Test debut had come relatively late at 27 – and his early reconnaissance was careful. Only seven runs came in the half hour before the drinks break.
Van Zyl’s Test debut should have come to grief on 2 when he turned Benn to the more backward of two short legs but Kraigg Braithwaite could not hold on to a chance which left the bat at pace. As van Zyl began to find his range, worse followed for West Indies when Benn left the field for treatment.
The opportunity for van Zyl to prosper could not have been more obvious if it had been adorned with bells and whistles. A cover drive against Marlon Samuels, whose off spin was pressed into service, drew the most appreciation in his seven morning boundaries
At the other end, there was continuity. Amla was bedding in. When he reached 150, it was his sixth score of 150 or more in Test cricket. He had 141 at start of play; another 37 by lunch, a low-key contribution to the morning. Unsurprisingly, discussions were heard about how long South Africa would bat before the declaration. This was pop gun Test cricket.