Theunis de Bruyn proved his worth under pressure……
Theunis de Bruyn might seem just any ordinary cricketer who has been pushed to the upper ranks in haste. After a drubbing in the first Test that was succeeded by the shock retirement of AB de Villiers from international cricket, it was a fact that South Africa needed a re-jig but de Bruyn’s entry was just shrugged off. Clearly, if stalwarts like Hashim Amla and captain Faf du Plessis were unable to control the spinning deliveries, how good could a youngster who was a seam bowler once be?
The script followed an eerily similar pattern in the second Test match. Sri Lanka had thwarted the South African spinners despite Keshav Maharaj picking up 9 wickets in the first innings to get to a massive 338. Though the score is not an intimidating one in the sub-continent, knowing the frailties of the visiting batsmen on a track that had even an ounce of spin, the first innings target was a mountain. As expected, they were shot out for 124 and luckily the hosts did not enforce a follow-on. However, a target of 490 sealed the fate of the series and the only question was how soon the Proteas would succumb.
Would they do better than their fourth innings display in the first Test when they had been dismissed for just 73 – their lowest total since readmission? Or would they finally bite the spin demons and show how compact their technique was? As Aiden Markram was sent back with the score reading 23, it was time for de Bruyn to answer the questions.
The fact that the player who was once compared to Graeme Smith before a hip injury pushed him to the sidelines was given the number 3 slot not only showed how excited the management was to give such an immense responsibility to a youngster but also on the flip-side showcased how Amla had disappointed them. The experienced pro was meant to hold the unit together in the absence of de Villiers but his dazed stance against spinners did no good.
It was here that de Bruyn stood out in his knock of 101 which was also the first and only hundred that a batsmen from South Africa scored in the series. He was able to pick the spinners easily on Day 3 and was the only player who has looked comfortable against them on the entire tour. He kept an eye out for the turn and played each ball on merit, employing the sweep as well against the balls that pitched outside off. He paved the way by showing his mates how to tackle Rangana Herath by taking a full delivery that was aimed at the stumps for a sweep to mid-wicket in just the sixth ball that he faced against him.
He did survive two back-to-back reviews for LBW but once the third session resumed, he was the sole-in-charge for South Africa. Dean Elgar, with whom du Bruyn shared a half-century stand with was iffy on the day, getting three reprieves and captain du Plessis failed to learn and kept coming down the track. Temba Bavuma was unable to read the variations at all in the first innings but he stuck along and found the gaps in his knock of 63 that was curtailed by Herath again. Amla survived getting dismissed in the short leg region but his woes against spin refused to die, eventually culminating into making this tour a pathetic one for him. This is where the 5-Test old de Bruyn showed the way.
He played in an unorthodox manner, reverse sweeping Dilruwan Perera against a ball that kept low. It was a sight that brought immense joy for it seemed like the first time when a Test match between two competitive teams was actually on. He unleashed sweeps after another and showed a positive intent to bring some cheer in a camp where only gloom has prevailed. The way he stuck around on a dodgy surface should have given a few lessons to his side to succumbed to their first overseas whitewash in over 12 years.
For a player who was making his debut in the subcontinent, de Bruyn’s intent is sure to rub off on his more famed mates. He does have a brilliant record in domestic cricket and is well reputed for batting out long periods and the player, who had an average of just 14.44 in Tests before this game, enhanced it even further by sticking around in tough conditions on Day 3 and Day 4 to end the dreary series with just one positive for the touring side.