PRETORIA (Reuters) - South Africa have lost two of the country’s finest ever batsman over the last 12 months, but in AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla they retain world class performers who dug the Proteas out of a spot of trouble on Wednesday.
Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith led South Africa to many famous wins and helped them out of many a hole in their glittering test careers that both ended within the last year.
Yet on the opening day of the first test against the West Indies, new captain Amla and the man who he beat to the job, De Villiers, showed the same grit, determination and skill that characterised the retired greats.
They helped South Africa from a precarious 57 for three to 340 by the close. Their unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 283 is a record for the Proteas in tests, eclipsing the 249 put on by Kallis and Gary Kirsten in 2003 against the same opposition.
But Amla (133 not out) and De Villiers (141 not out) are used to big numbers batting together. This was the seventh time they have put on over 100 in tests to go with 11 more partnerships above 50.
"I get tired of looking at this guy down the other end of the wicket,” De Villiers joked in a TV interview.
"It was difficult today, give credit to the West Indies bowlers, they bowled really well early on. The wicket flattened out a little bit in the afternoon and we made it work for us."
South Africa are playing their first test in almost five months, which might account for some of their rustiness in the morning session.
"It felt a bit weird in the beginning because we haven’t played test cricket in such a long time. The first five minutes we spent out there it felt like a full day already, it really felt very long. I just tried to take it one ball at a time."
De Villiers said they did not let the gravity of their situation overwhelm them and were able to relax and concentrate on playing.
“We tried to keep it light-hearted out there, quite a few little jokes," he said.
"He (Amla) is actually a really funny guy out there in the middle. He is very quiet off the field but there are lots of sharp chirps in between. And I love batting with a guy like that.”
Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Toby Davis