With a first innings total of 418 set by South Africa, visitors England looked in real danger of getting nothing from this first test match at Centurian as they lost eight wickets for 242. However, Graeme Swann, who was an injury worry before this opening test match, and is better known for his bowling, put on an excellent test-best 85 to help England rally at the end of day three.
Ably assisted by his friend and fellow England Ashes bowler-turned-batting-saviour James Anderson (29) Swann achieved the highest test score by an England number nine batsman since 1971, and helped England to a total score of 356, just 62 runs behind the hosts.
The damage was done largely by South African slow left arm bowler, Paul Harris who recorded a five wicket haul with figures of 5-123, however, batting first on this wicket looks to have been key in this test as cracks are appearing on the pitch that will surely come into play in the third and fourth innings.
Indeed, a nightmare delivery which kept terrifically low from the bowling of Makhaya Ntini accounted for England’s captain, Andrew Strauss, who was clean bowled by the skidding delivery, which also jagged back into the England left-hander. Strauss had made 46 and looked relatively comfortable until his wicket fell.
Cue a nervy period during which many England batsmen made a start, but failed to capitalise.
Pietersen (40) and Collingwood (50) were dogged, before falling cheaply by their high standards after Trott (28), at number three, was clean bowled playing all round a Harris delivery which didn’t move a great deal.
England will once again worry about their number six and seven positions after Bell (5) and Prior (4) failed to make any sort of contribution: they look to be missing Andrew Flintoff more than ever, though the man at number eight, Stuart Broad (17) once again looked reasonably composed to legitimately claim the ‘all-rounder’ position he stamped his name on late in last summer’s Ashes.
Broad was given out LBW by the TV umpire in slightly surreal circumstances after a lengthy delay while the South Africans made up their mind to use their third and final “referral” following an on-field “not out” decision. Broad was unhappy with this decision, and the time allotted to make the decision to refer is clearly something about which the governing body may need to make some kind of ruling. England would argue that it was long enough for the South African camp in the pavilion to watch a replay and gesture to the players on field.
England First Innings Scorecard
|Cook||c Boucher||b de Wet|
|Trott||b P Harris|
|Pietersen||b M Morkel|
|Collingwood||c Kallis||b P Harris|
|Bell||b P Harris|
|Prior||c de Wet||b P Harris|
|Swann||c Gm Smith||b P Harris|
|Anderson||c M Morkel||b Ntini|
|Extras||12nb 5w 8b 8lb||33|
Despite this drama, Graeme Swann stole the show soon after showing, in the process, the professional batters what they might have achieved had they played less nervous innings: Swann demonstrating just why his teammates were so happy to have him fit for this test.
As a spinner, Swann will have a job to do with the ball in hand, and, after Anderson added to his work with the bat by dismissing South African opener Prince (0) for a third ball duck, one fancies he may come into the fray at around lunchtime tomorrow with South Africa either looking to set an unreachable target or to post one which at least keeps them competitive.
It shall be a time any bowler of spin will relish, with batsmen either looking to stay in or score freely: wickets will come on a crumbling pitch under such circumstances.
Tomorrow morning will be key: a chase of more than 300 on this pitch, day five, will be difficult for England to knock off, however, anything less than that is eminently possible for a resurgent England batting up to their standard.
England must restrict South Africa to a second innings total of around 250 to be in with a fighting chance. South Africa begin the day on 9 runs for 1 wicket lost.
South Africa, as they proved in the first innings, however, are strong with the willow in hand: England’s bowlers must be right on the money or the match will leave them tomorrow. At present, it looks set up for a result at Centurian, its just difficult to know with any certainty just who will achieve it. Right now it is advantage South Africa. Don’t take your eyes off this one on day four.