Talented duo Gihahn Cloete and Theunis de Bruyn took centre stage on debut for South Africa A on the opening day of the first four-day match against the England Lions at Boland Park on Sunday.
After South Africa had won the toss, their third-wicket partnership of 150 in only 157 minutes was the dominant feature of the day’s play. Cloete made his sixth first-class century and De Bruyn his second, with the latter carrying on after the demise of his partner to take the total past 300 – and give the home side a commanding score of 379 for four at the close.
Cloete (123 off 221 balls, 16 fours and a six) initially shared a partnership of 122 for the first wicket with Stiaan van Zyl, taking up his new position of opening batsman, to set the platform for the rest of the day.
The Lions, who had generally bowled slightly too short in the morning session on a grassy pitch, looked as though they might get back into the game when Liam Plunkett dismissed both Van Zyl (65 off 105 balls, eight fours) and Andrew Puttick (duck) – but Cloete and De Bruyn then resumed control as the home side scored 63 for two off 14 overs in the hour after lunch.
England managed to pick up a couple of wickets in the final session, but not the important one of De Bruyn (126 off 156 balls, 22 fours), who shared an unbroken partnership of 61 in only 10 overs with another debutant in Rudi Second.
In the bigger South African picture, it was highly encouraging to see two players new to this level do well against an attack that included fully fledged internationals in Plunkett and Boyd Rankin.
Cloete does not carry the nickname ‘Le Glue’ for nothing. He has a record in domestic cricket of being able to bat for long periods in first-class cricket and he looks temperamentally strong as well. He did offer a couple of chances but this never deflected his focus.
His century was the sixth of his first-class career (186 balls, 13 fours and a six) and was brought up in grand manner, when he drove Plunkett to the cover boundary.
As for De Bruyn, it is less than a year since he made his first-class debut and he is currently only playing his 10th game in the longer format. Admittedly the platform had been set for him, but the cleanness of his hitting and the quality of his driving and cutting confirmed him as a player of high calibre. His half-century came off only 66 balls (eight fours), which is way above the average scoring rate for this venue.
De Bruyn and Cloete used to be room-mates in the South African under-19 squad and they fully enjoyed one another’s success.