"Your currency in batting is runs and milestones, and that's not something that you can sweep under the rug," Rassie van der Dussen told ESPNcricinfo earlier this week, after South Africa won the Test series against India 2-1 without any centurions and not even a 100-run stand in their ranks.
On tough pitches with variable bounce in both Highveld venues and at Newlands, India's line-up had two hundreds, two century stands and five partnerships of 50 runs or more; South Africa boasted nine half-century stands. van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma were involved in three each and one together, but both have been under scrutiny for the dearth of international scores in three-figures. Less so after Wednesday.
The pair brought up contrasting centuries on an expectedly slow surface at Boland Park to ease concerns about their inability to convert. They shared in a 204-run fourth-wicket stand, the highest for a South African fourth-wicket pair against India, which was perfectly balanced between accumulator and aggressor. While it may not come as a surprise that Bavuma fulfilled the former role, van der Dussen was perhaps unlikely in his role as the latter. Let it sink in that he now averages 73.62, more than anyone except Michael Hussey after 30 ODIs, and probably shows a bit more positive intent in this format that he is given credit for.
Bavuma was needed in the fifth over, with the ball still swinging and it's understandable that he was more watchful. In his first 21 balls, both Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar found Bavuma's edge, he nearly played on twice and, in frustration, he hit a Bhuvneshwar delivery aerially over midwicket but did not time it well. A harsh assessment may be that he could have been out five times in that period of play; a more generous one will consider the soft hands with which Bavuma played at the first ball, which saw it drop short of second slip, and note that the midwicket area was vacant when he hit the ball there. And at the end of all that, Bavuma had 11 runs. In van der Dussen's first 21 balls, he scored 27 runs, chancelessly, including three fours and a six.
The circumstances of van der Dussen's arrival at the crease were different to Bavuma's. van der Dussen was in in the 18th over, when the ball was older and spinners had started operating. He was aware of his history of starting slowly and the urgency of the situation which required changing that.
"I was coming in under a bit of pressure," he said to the broadcasters during the innings break. "It was about upping the intensity. [Yuzvendra] Chahal was settled. It was turning for him. I knew I had to get the sweeps and reverse sweeps out early to put him under pressure. In the past I would have taken 10 or 15 balls to get the pace of the wicket but today I just decided not to. The conditions told me I should start looking at that from early on."
van der Dussen reverse-swept the third ball he faced through deep point, swept the 11th ball through midwicket and swept the 16th ball to the cow corner. All those boundaries came off Chahal - he scored 28 runs off the 23 balls he faced from Chahal. Bavuma also took Chahal on and used his feet to take two boundaries off his sixth over but by the time South Africa got to the halfway stage on 118 for 3, there could have been the seeds of a problem.
Their scoring rate was under five an over and if they kept going that way, they would struggle to reach 250. Of course, with wickets in hand and David Miller to come, South Africa would have been banking on a late surge but they also needed some acceleration from the set pair. Bavuma's attempted hoick four overs later off Bumrah, that ended up as a top-edge over Rishabh Pant's head, was an indication that he knew it too.
"I struggled to hit the ball out the middle and hit the ball in the gaps. Rassie looked like he was batting on a different wicket," Bavuma said at the presentation after the match.
By the end of the 35th over, the run rate peeped above five an over. van der Dussen had got to his half-century in that over, off 49 balls. His next 50 runs came in 34. Bavuma's first fifty gobbled up 76 balls and his next came off 57. Overall, their partnership prospered at more than a run a ball. They were particularly successful against spin, scoring 92 runs off 99 balls from Chahal and R Ashwin.
"It was very hot out there today and when he got to 70 or 80, he felt the heat a bit and he reminded me to remind him to keep the intensity up," van der Dussen said of his chats with Bavuma, at the post-match press conference. "His running between the wickets is something I feed off well."
From an individual perspective these hundreds were much needed by players who have not been able to register the same success in red-ball cricket. But if South Africa's bowlers had not plucked four Indian wickets for 18 runs from the 34th to 39th overs, this would be a story about this pair taking too long. After all, Bavuma has scored the third-slowest ODI hundred in the last five years and the slowest by a South Africa batter in over 14 years. As van der Dussen pointed out in that interview, Bavuma and South Africa were able to stay in the fight for longer, and even though this series does not count for World Cup Super League points, it serves to prove a point.