Waiting for Stiaan

Waiting is the hardest part, and Stiaan Van Zyl has done a lot of it.

Van Zyl is unlike a lot of the Test debutants. He is 27 years old and has already played 96 First Class matches with a healthy average of 45 as a top order batsman. Having made his first class debut in 2006 as a 19 year old, he’s had to wait eight long years to don the South African colors as a Test batsman.

It was four years after his FC debut that Van Zyl got a call up to South Africa A team to tour Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, having averaged 58 in that season. After touring with the South Africa Test side to Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the winter of 2014 without actually getting a game, he finally got a look in, at home against the West Indies, in place of the injured JP Duminy.

Certainly, Van Zyl is used to waiting. However, even he couldn’t have expected the kind of wait he would have to endure with the pads on for his maiden Test innings.

West Indies won the toss and elected to bowl first under dark and cloudy Pretoria skies. The openers made mockery of the challenging conditions as they got off to a flier, aided in large part by the inaccurate West Indian bowlers. It was only after Kemar Roach was introduced in to the attack that there was a semblance of control to the proceedings.

Van Zyl’s nerves on debut must have been assuaged a bit watching the openers make easy work and rattle off fifty in no time. Perhaps he imagined a scenario when he would walk in with the score at 400/4, the pitch and the bowlers both flattened. But then, within the space of 15 balls, South Africa went from 57/0 to 57/3. “Oops, got to pad up quick!”

Professional sportsmen are wont to say that they would rather be on the field and get on with things, rather than sit on their rear and wait. Surely, with this sudden turn in fortunes, Van Zyl must have thought his turn to bat for the first time in whites for his country, finally realizing a childhood dream, was only a few moments away.

Little did he know that he would have to wait 83.2 overs and 308 runs to finally step out on to the turf. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, two of the finest batsmen in the world, put together the highest 4th wicket partnership for South Africa in Tests, saving South Africa the blushes and Van Zyl a baptism by fire. Only Inzamam ul Haq and Van Zyl’s fellow countryman Ossie Dawson have had to wait longer on debut with partnerships of 322 runs and 319 runs, respectively, preceding their innings.

Pic: cricket365.com

Pic: cricket365.com

Even with the score at a very comfortable 365/4, the bright sun quickening the pitch, and West Indies missing their main strike bowler Roach (foot injury) and skipper Hashim Amla for company, Van Zyl showed early nerves. His footwork was iffy and indecisive. The fans at Super Sport Park gave him a generous ovation, when he finally got off the mark with a whipped single to square leg. He was dropped on 2 when Kragg Brathwaite couldn’t hold on to a sharp chance at short leg off Suleiman Benn, but, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.

Van Zyl soon hit his stride, unfurling the gorgeous cover drives he is known for. He took on the spinners and pacers with equal aplomb, punishing hard anything inaccurate. From 2 runs off 20 balls, he rattled off the next 48 runs in just 54 deliveries to register his maiden Test half-century. When the hundredth run partnership with Amla had been raised, Van Zyl had contributed 59 to it as opposed to Amla’s 40.

A crescendo of expectant applause portended his century and he duly obliged when a rasping square cut was misfielded at point. Fifteen boundaries studded his maiden hundred, making him only the fifth South African batsman to score a century on debut and the first to do it in front of the adoring home fans. Arms aloft, he soaked in the cheers from the crowd and his teammates. His helmet was off and his bat raised as the roar from the crowd washed over him. Finally, the applause tapered off. The West Indian players applauded their young opponent and went back to their positions, Benn was on top of his mark to bowl again, the umpires were on the ready. But now, it was the world’s turn to wait on Stiaan Van Zyl, the man who had waited all his life for this moment.

This post was originally published on Cricket 365.


This entry was posted in Featured, Test Match Cricket and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.