IT TOOK them almost four and a half tense hours and 62.4 overs, but South Africa's batsmen diligently accumulated the modest 164 runs they needed to beat the West Indies by four wickets in the first Test at the Wanderers five minutes before tea yesterday.
The result erased the memory of their loss in their only previous Test in Barbados in March, 1992, when their last eight wickets tumbled for 28 on the final day, and it earned them an early advantage in the series, the first between the teams in South Africa.
Setting out on their mission from the start of a hot, sunny day, South Africa needed nerves of steel and perfect judgement to overcome the threat of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh on a difficult last day pitch. Their potential problems materialised within the first 40 minutes with the wickets of Gary Kirsten, caught by the keeper off Ambrose, and Adam Bacher, taken off an inside edge off Walsh.
Ambrose and Walsh had been the destroyers in Barbados and, nearly seven years on and with no signs of declining effectiveness, they applied such early pressure that Walsh conceded a mere eight runs from his opening spell of six overs, Ambrose 14 from his 10.
Once they were rested, Jacques Kallis, technically correct and temperamentally cool, held the effort together for three hours and 50 minutes to be unbeaten on 57 when victory was achieved, his second half-century of a low-scoring match.
Kallis shared successive match-winning partnerships of 44 with Daryll Cullinan and 66 with his captain Hansie Cronje, both of whom provided the necessary impetus to the effort.
"In Bridgetown, we were new to Test cricket and we made mistakes," Cronje, along with the fast bowler Allan Donald the sole survivor of that experience, said afterwards. "We weren't positive enough on that final day. Now, 50 Tests or so down the line, we're used to it."
Coming in at 14 for 2, Cullinan seized on every scoring opportunity and rode whatever luck was going to score 35 off 64 balls before Stuart Williams miraculously plucked his fierce pull off Nixon McLean out of the air at midwicket.
It was then 58 for 3 and it needed the positive influence of Cronje to counteract the run-choking field-placing of his rival captain, Brian Lara. Caught at silly mid-on off an Ambrose no-ball at 96 for 3, when 17, he eventually fell to a top-edged hook to fine-leg off Walsh for 31.
By then, while a famous victory was only 40 runs away, the storm clouds that had broken around tea on each of the previous two days were banking up and Cronje set his team a 4pm deadline to complete the job.
As it was, the rain did not materialise and, even though Walsh had Jonty Rhodes caught behind and Ambrose's full toss was flicked by Shaun Pollock hard but straight to square-leg with the scores level, Kallis remained steadfast until Mark Boucher cut Ambrose square to win the match.
Fifth day; West Indies won toss
WEST INDIES - First Innings 261 (S Chanderpaul 74)
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 268 (G Kirsten 62; C A Walsh 4-66).
WEST INDIES - Second Innings 170 (S M Pollock 4-49).
SOUTH AFRICA - Second Innings
G Kirsten c Jacobs b Ambrose 7
A M Bacher c Wallace b Walsh 6
J H Kallis not out 57
D J Cullinan c Williams b McLean 35
*W J Cronje c McLean b Walsh 31
J N Rhodes c Jacobs b Walsh 9
S M Pollock c Chanderpaul b Ambrose 9
M V Boucher not out 1
Extras (lb2 nb7) 9
Total (for 6) 164
Fall: 1-14 2-14 3-58 4-124 5-146 6-163.
Bowling: Ambrose 15.4-3-42-2; Walsh 21-9-45-3; Lewis 17-4-45-0; Hooper 4-0-13-0; McLean 5-0-17-1.
Umpires: C J Mitchley and D R Shepherd.
Second test: Port Elizabeth, 10-14 Dec.
Third test: Durban, 26-30 Dec.
Fourth test: Cape Town, 2-6 Jan.
Final test: Centurion Park, 15-19 Jan.Reuse content