Untroubled and untested, Dean Elgar led the way as the Proteas laid a 298-1 foundation against Bangladesh in the first Test.
Elgar carried his bat to end the day on 128 alongside Hashim Amla, who did his best to inject some life into the proceedings with 68 off 103 balls. He had been given the freedom to play his shots after the openers put on a healthy 196, until Aiden Markram was run out just three agonising runs short of his hundred on debut.
A tiring Elgar actually tapped off in the evening session, dropping his strike rate from 60-plus at lunch to 45 by the close. Of the 102 they put on for the second wicket, Elgar contributed 29.
The talking point of the day was the performance of Markram, until the mix-up cut short his day. He had been backing up robustly to give his partner the single he needed for his hundred, only to be sent back when he was halfway down the pitch. But his innings, in which he struck 13 fours off 152 balls, was marked by his calm maturity, belying his age of 22 years and 359 days.
He would have been gutted, for he had worked so hard for his coveted milestone, falling on the stroke of tea.
The South Africans had gone into lunch on 99, with Markram on 43 off 69 balls and Elgar on 56 off 99. At the resumption, Markram stepped up a gear and was soon tracking Elgar neck and neck. Even when there was a rare false shot, usually due to exuberance of youth, the edge would beat the field and run away for four.
It would have been the first Test hundred by a debutant since Stephen Cook’s 115 against England at Centurion in January 2016, and comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn.
Churlish as it may seem, Markram’s score needs to be put into perspective, for sterner tests await. Cook scored three hundreds and two fifties, yet after 11 matches he was deemed not good enough.
Cook was the epitome of a grafter and laboured for his runs. Markram showed greater poise and grace and his confidence burst through like his trademark cover drive.
A run-out is the most likely form of dismissal on this wicket; there was almost a second when Amla sent Elgar back. With every driven, whipped and flicked four, the Proteas rubbed raw Bangladesh’s bizarre decision to bowl first on what looked an excellent batting strip.
Having gone into the match with three quick bowlers and one frontline spinner, the Bangladeshis ran out of options once they found that the ball was doing very little, either through the air or off the pitch, and they lacked the discipline to apply pressure by strangling the flow of runs.
Unless the visitors can find something extra, the likely scenario is the Proteas building an insurmountable first-innings offering and the Bangladeshis struggling to survive.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images