PAARL – Stiaan van Zyl reminded all and sundry of his class on a scorching day at Boland Park on Thursday.
The elegant left-hander has been on the sidelines for almost the entire season due to his Kolpak status, but has made an immense contribution to the Cape Cobras since returning to the team last week.
Van Zyl followed up his half-century in Benoni with a sublime 114 not out – his 24th first-class century – which has put the Cobras in a commanding position at stumps. In a model of concentration, good judgement and occasional delightful cover drives, Van Zyl batted for 265 minutes, faced 164 balls and hit 17 fours.
Cobras coach Ashwell Prince had identified the need to put the struggling Lions under pressure from the outset through solid partnerships, and the batting unit certainly responded to their coach’s call.
Van Zyl was the pivotal figure in two outstanding partnerships. The 30-year-old shared a 107-run stand for the third wicket with Zubayr Hamza (54) before adding another 124 runs with Kyle Verreynne (64) for the fourth. This came after openers Pieter Malan (66) and Simon Khomari (32) had shared a 109-run partnership for the first wicket which laid the foundation.
The value of having an experienced player like Van Zyl, who has previously played 12 Tests for the Proteas, was certainly evident throughout the day. Youngsters such as Hamza and Verreynne could focus solely on their own games while batting with Van Zyl, as the left-hander maintained a healthy run-rate of 3.56 without doing anything reckless.
In the end, they would actually have been disappointed with the timing of their dismissals as a three-figure score was on the table for both batsmen.
The Lions, meanwhile, are looking a rather ragged bunch and at this early stage of the contest already face an uphill battle to avoid a third Sunfoil Series defeat.
It is clear the problems within the Lions camp run deep with the fielding unit often seeming listless, while the bowlers were simply not disciplined enough to maintain a maintain any sort of line or length.
Debutant leg-spinner Dyllan Matthews was the chief culprit as the nerves seemed to get the better of the North West University student as he delivered a litany of full tosses and long hops to concede 86 runs in 15 overs. He even committed the cardinal sin of delivering five no balls, of which a couple were called for full tosses above waist height.
It was only former Cobras left-arm seamer Beuran Hendricks that offered some fight throughout the day. Hendricks toiled for 22 overs, claiming 2/68 in the process and was desperately unlucky to have a huge LBW appeal against Van Zyl, who was on 99 at the time, turned down.
Fellow former Capetonian Nono Pongolo offered Hendricks some sort of support with 2/47.
In complete contrast at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth, the opening day between the Warriors and Dolphins saw 14 wickets fall. Simon Harmer was the chief-destroyer for the home team with the off-spinner grabbing 6/47 and Anrich Nortje also chipping in with 3/42 to skittle the visitors for 145.
The home side’s effort with the bat has not gone too well either with the Warriors reduced to 63/4 before an unbroken 37-run partnership between Yaseen Vallie (29 not out) and Lesiba Ngoepe (14 not out) pushed them to 100/4.
Meanwhile, Grant Mokoena struck a superb 143 not out to power the Knights to 304/7 against the Titans in Bloemfontein.
The opener kept the innings together for 414 minutes, and faced 285 balls, striking 15 boundaries and one six. There was a lack of major support for Mokoena with Luthando Mnyanda adding 31, Theunis de Bruyn 29, Keegan Petersen 24, Patrick Kruger 21 and Werner Coetzee 26.
Rowan Richards was the most successful bowler for the Titans with 3/53, while leg-spinner Shaun von Berg picked up 3/74.