Kallis calls the shots
Jacques Kallis hit a splendid hundred to carry South Africa from a position of peril into one of considerable strength on the opening day of the first Test against England at Centurion.
Having lost the toss and been asked to bat first on a green pitch, the hosts were in danger of surrendering an early, and possibly significant, advantage to England as they slipped to 93 for three.
But Kallis was the central figure in a dogged resistance effort which carried the Proteas to 262 for four by the close.
Never shy of time at the crease, he batted for almost 70 overs in making an unbeaten 112, orchestrating an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 103 with JP Duminy which enhanced the good work done during a 66-run alliance with AB de Villiers for the fourth.
Kallis went to three figures for the 32nd time in Tests shortly before the players left the field, and will resume tomorrow eager to strengthen South Africa’s advantage on a pitch which, though offering encouragement to seamers and spinners alike throughout, lacked pace.
Duminy also deserves much credit, and the suspicion remains that the left-hander - 38 not out at the close - must also be prised from the crease early tomorrow if England are to prevent South Africa amassing a sizeable first-innings total.
The tourists’ ambitions may be dented, however, by a calf injury that kept Graham Onions off the field for parts of today and restricted his movement when he returned, while Stuart Broad appeared to be affected by a hamstring problem.
Kallis is often overlooked by some when discussion turns to the game’s greatest all-rounders, but quite why remains a mystery.
He may not add to his tally of 258 Test wickets at 31 apiece in this game - he cannot bowl due to a rib injury - but he now boasts 10,389 runs an average in excess of 55. They are phenomenal statistics.
No praise is high enough for a man around whom the South Africa batting has been built for almost a decade and a half, and whose contribution today could prove crucial to the outcome of this Test - and possibly the series.
There was immediate movement in the air for England’s opening bowlers after Andrew Strauss won the toss, but Broad was nevertheless fortunate to see Graeme Smith tickle a short delivery which was swinging down the leg side to a leaping Matt Prior.
Hashim Amla survived two lbw shouts from Onions before the Durham seamer won a leg-before appeal against Ashwell Prince, playing back to a delivery that held its line when he had made 19.
Umpire Steve Davis raised his finger but Prince, whose feet were off the ground at the point of impact, conferred with Amla before asking for a review. Hawk-eye suggested the ball was going over the stumps, and third umpire Amiesh Saheba overturned the decision.
Onions was finally rewarded for maintaining a fuller length when he located Amla’s outside edge with the next ball, the batsman drawn into a firm push outside off stump which was superbly taken low down by Paul Collingwood at second slip.
It was the highlight of an absorbing passage of play that saw Kallis edge his first ball for four and Prince chip the next delivery, bowled by James Anderson, to square-leg, where Alastair Cook failed to cling on to a one-handed effort diving high to his right.
Swann, retained in the side despite a surface which may have deterred many a captain from playing a spinner, justified his inclusion when he struck with only his second delivery after being introduced in the 35th over.
Having made 45, the obdurate Prince was lured forward, the ball spun sufficiently to take the outside edge, and Collingwood claimed a straightforward catch at slip.
Kallis responded by lifting Swann over long-on for six, and underlined his intent by sweeping him for four two balls later.
He did, however, need the input of the television official after England had challenged Aleem Dar’s decision to turn down an lbw appeal from Anderson, while de Villiers narrowly avoided being run out by an alert Cook at short-leg when he had made just 14.
The pair brought up the 50 stand half an hour before tea courtesy of successive fours from de Villiers, and Kallis went to his half-century, off 86 balls, moments later.
Swann was convinced he had de Villiers, on 32, caught behind sweeping, but Davis disagreed. There was no convincing video evidence to suggest otherwise, and England were left to rue the failure of their second and final referral.
However, their ire turned to joy when Swann struck in his next over, de Villiers propping a catch to Cook at short-leg via bat and pad without addition to his score.
It proved to be England’s last success of a day dominated by Kallis’ crisp strokeplay. Driving with typical elan, he also unfurled a clutch of one-legged pulls.
Ironically, a top-edged hook off Broad, which narrowly evaded a labouring Onions at fine-leg, took him to his century, spanning 177 balls and containing 13 fours and a six.
Duminy was content to play second fiddle to Kallis, although he weathered an initial barrage of short-pitched balls to lift Swann back over his head for six and drive Anderson elegantly through cover.
A Kallis swivel-pull brought up the hundred partnership shortly before the close, and served as a timely reminder of the scale of the task facing England tomorrow.