Proteas batsmen prosper at Canterbury
South Africa’s batsmen had the edge over their bowlers as they completed preparations for the first Investec Test against England in a routine rain-affected stalemate with Kent at Canterbury.
An uninterrupted final day of three was not enough to open up the possibility of anything other than a draw as the tourists’ 314 all out gave them a 104-run lead. Young Kent openers Sam Northeast and Daniel Bell-Drummond, who struck 54 and 48 not out respectively, then followed their first-innings stand of 81 with an unbroken 105 second time round.
Theirs was undoubtedly the best batting of the match, against a world-class attack - albeit one going gently through the gears on a stodgy pitch, with much bigger assignments in the offing.
Three middle-order half-centuries had ensured South Africa’s batsmen will head to the Kia Oval with confidence intact and crease time under their belts.
None of the top seven was dismissed for single-figures; Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis retired on 77 and 54 respectively after a century stand for the third wicket, and Jacques Rudolph’s 50 ensured the necessary extra substance.
From an overnight 108 for two, Amla and Kallis were watchful this morning on a slow surface still offering occasional low bounce.
But Amla pulled Charlie Shreck and then cut him for successive boundaries - his seventh and eighth, to go to his fifty from 99 balls.
When off-spinner Adam Riley was introduced, Kallis was in no mood to let him settle.
He drove him for three fours in his first over, to bring up his half-century with his ninth boundary from 66 balls.
But Riley might have had him on 44, when Kallis yorked himself as he advanced but was saved when wicketkeeper Sam Billings could not gather the awkward take required to complete the stumping.
Amla and Kallis’ double retirement was followed, shortly before lunch, by AB de Villiers’ mis-pull at Matt Coles and a well-judged catch on the square-leg boundary by Bell-Drummond.
JP Duminy and Rudolph put on 57 together to stretch the lead, until the former edged an attempted drive at Ivan Thomas on to his stumps.
Rudolph stayed long enough to complete his half-century, from 114 balls, only to then fall immediately to a return catch to Riley.
Then when Morne Morkel was last out, South Africa did not take up the notional option of sending either Amla or Kallis back out again - choosing instead to see what damage they could do with the ball in the 32 overs remaining.
It turned out to be very little; Bell-Drummond and Northeast were both convincing in defence and attack.
They had little trouble with Morkel and Vernon Philander’s new-ball spells, and then Bell-Drummond crunched Kallis for three back-foot boundaries in his first over - including a memorably dismissive pull, flicked aerially well in front of square.
The belated introduction of South Africa’s number one strike bowler Dale Steyn was greeted with a lordly boundary past cover first ball from Northeast.
Bell-Drummond appeared particularly at ease with pace on the ball. But when South Africa turned to spin, Northeast was the more adventurous and reached his half-century from only 62 balls by lofting an on-drive off Imran Tahir for his seventh four.
There was not quite enough time for Bell-Drummond to reach his fifty before the draw was confirmed an hour early, but Kent did manage to get their noses just back in front.
Rudolph reflected afterwards on a contest in which he admitted he and his batting colleagues had found things easier, and perhaps more beneficial, than South Africa’s much-vaunted pace attack.
“I think it was good preparation, specifically from a batting point of view - everybody got starts, got in," he said.
“It was a little difficult for the bowlers. The wicket didn’t really give them any assistance.
“But the way we’ve batted here as a unit was exceptional. We’re pleased with the work we’ve done, and I can promise you all the boys just want that first Test to start now.”