South Africa have been one of the more consistent Test teams this decade, despite a decline in the past 18 months or so.
They have won Test series in every continent including a series win in Sri Lanka in the past decade, showing their ability to adapt to different conditions. Here are my top five knocks by South African batsmen in the past decade.
5. Jacques Kallis – 115 versus India in Durban, 2013
Around Christmas in 2013, Jacques Kallis announced he would retire from Test cricket following the Boxing Day Test against India. Well, what better way to exit than to score a hundred in your last Test? In reply to India’s 334, Kallis walked out to a guard of honour but the Indians seemed to be on top with the Proteas 3-113.
Knowing that his partner AB de Villiers is such a free-flowing batsman, the South African all-rounder decided to dig in and hold up an end. Kallis took his time as he took 16 balls to get off the mark. He formed a 127-run stand with De Villiers (74) before reaching his 50 off 131 deliveries.
Despite reaching one milestone, Kallis never got carried away. He continued to grind out the runs, forming 50-plus stands with JP Duminy (28) and nightwatchman Dale Steyn (44) en route to his 45th Test century. Kallis was dismissed by Ravindra Jadeja for 115 as he walked off to a standing ovation by the Durban crowd.
His knock would end up being his final Test innings as South Africa took the charge on Day 5 and won by ten wickets. Kallis’ innings lasted 316 balls and 393 minutes – a testament to his courage, patience and temperament. He would join a list of 33 players who have scored hundreds in their final Test match.
4. AB de Villiers – 126 versus Australia in Port Elizabeth, 2018
With South Africa 1-0 down in the series, they needed their big players to step up in the second Test in Port Elizabeth. Australia had scored a paltry 244 in their first innings and things seemed comfortable for the Proteas when AB de Villiers walked in at 3-155.
De Villiers was middling it from ball one. He played some very crisp shots as he reached his half-century off just 62 balls. But he was running out of partners as Australia kept on chipping away with wickets. He built crucial stands alongside Vernon Philander (36) and Keshav Maharaj (30) as he scored his 22nd Test century off just 117 balls. De Villiers was eventually stranded on 126 not out as South Africa were bowled out for 382.
What I enjoyed the most about this innings was how effortlessly he scored these runs so quickly against a world-class bowling attack in Australia. On 96, he played an extraordinary uppercut off a Pat Cummins bouncer – a highlight of his class. His innings played a major role as it gave South Africa a 100-plus run lead and ultimately a six-wicket win. Had cricket fans known that this would be De Villiers’ final hurrah in international cricket, this innings would’ve been much more appreciated.
3. JP Duminy 141 versus Australia in Perth, 2016
Another quality innings by a South African against Australia – this time Down Under. South Africa were 2-45 late on Day 2 in their second innings – a lead of 43 and a bowler down with Dale Steyn out for the rest of the first Test following a shoulder injury. Australia were right on top and South Africa had to dig deep. So they did.
JP Duminy joined opener Dean Elgar and they just batted. And batted. And batted. While Elgar was more gritty and ground out the bowlers, Duminy was a lot more free-flowing. Whether it was against the pacers in Mitch Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle and Mitch Marsh or Nathan Lyon’s offies, he just continued to play some of the most elegant drives I’ve seen on a hard deck at the WACA.
The South African all-rounder had a scare on 97 when he nearly chopped one on but those moments soon faded away when he drove Mitch Marsh for two, scoring his fifth Test century. There were signs of weariness in the latter parts of his innings and that would be his demise as he was dismissed by Peter Siddle for 141.
The third-wicket stand of 250 runs by Elgar and Duminy had batted Australia out of the game. A huge 77 of Duminy’s runs came in straight drives and cover drives, showing his elegance and class on a spicy deck. Duminy averaged only 32.46 in Test cricket, but he always cranked it up against Australia, averaging 44.22 in 13 Tests with three centuries and two half-centuries. His innings was one of the key moments leading to a South African victory at the WACA.
2. Hashim Amla – 311 versus England in London, 2012
Hashim Amla is a synonym for class. He has bailed South Africa out of trouble many times and he would do so once again at the Oval. Bowled out for 385, England started brilliantly with the ball as South Africa were 1-1 in the third over of their innings.
England’s front-line bowlers were clueless how to get him out. Part-timer Ravi Bopara nearly had him on 40, but Andrew Strauss failed to hang on to a tough chance. Little did the Poms know how much that would cost them. He formed massive stands with his skipper Graeme Smith (131) and Jacques Kallis (182) as he went past AB de Villiers’ record of the highest Test score (278) by a South African. Amla was nearly gone on 299 but just whisked past the fingers of cover as he became the first South African to score a triple century in Test cricket. He finished not out on 311 as South Africa declared at 2-637.
His innings is criminally underrated and underappreciated. Only 27 of his runs (less than 10 per cent) were straight drives. Anything on his legs or with width was driven or flicked away to the boundary. The Oval may be one of the flatter wickets in England, but batting for over 13 hours and 185 overs takes great skill and determination. England’s batsmen were batting with tiring minds from being out on the field for so long as they lost by an innings and 12 runs.
1. Faf du Plessis – 110 versus Australia in Adelaide, 2012
The 2006 Ashes Test in Adelaide is nicknamed amazing Adelaide. The second Test between Australia and South Africa in 2012 at the Adelaide Oval should be nicknamed the great escape. Tasked with chasing 430 in 147 overs, South Africa were in strife at 4-45 in the 21st over.
Debutant Faf du Plessis joined his childhood friend AB de Villiers as they began their block-athon. The pair batted until stumps, with South Africa 4-77. There were 97 overs left to battle on Day 5. Du Plessis formed important stands with De Villiers (33) and a hamstrung Jacques Kallis (46) en route to a century on Test debut – the fourth South African to achieve this feat. Following their dismissals, the South African tail-enders hung around and despite a few nervy moments, South Africa had escaped the jaws of defeat courtesy of a Faf du Plessis ton.
There are so many circumstances that led to Du Plessis’ debut. He could’ve been a rugby player like his father, yet he chose cricket over rugby at the age of 16. A Kolpak deal from Nottinghamshire came at the age of 21, but he rejected it. A heel injury during a warm down to JP Duminy at the Gabba a week before the Adelaide Test saw him in the playing XI in Adelaide.
He repaid the South African selectors with a match-saving knock that lasted 466 minutes. His knock is one of the many examples of the never-give-up mantra instilled in the Proteas under Graeme Smith. South Africa gained massive momentum from the draw as they thrashed a deflated Australia a few days later in Perth to win their second consecutive series on Australian soil.