England begin long road to parity
England responded to another trying day in the field by making a promising start in pursuit of South Africa’s imposing first-innings total at Centurion.
The hosts strengthened the advantage gleaned yesterday by batting deep into the second day at Centurion, and had amassed 418 by the time their resistance was finally brought to an end after 153 overs.
If South Africa demonstrated their determination to grind out an advantage during an innings best described as efficient, England provided a timely reminder of their resolve by negotiating the 23 overs possible in the final session for the loss of only Alastair Cook.
Andrew Strauss hit an unbeaten 44 and Jonathan Trott a more watchful 18 not out as the tourists closed on 88 for one, repelling the advances of a South Africa attack led by the spirited Friedel de Wet.
De Wet, the debutant, was responsible for Cook’s downfall - the left-hander fell for 15 despite obvious adjustments to his technique in recent weeks - having been one of the key figures in a determined effort from the South Africa lower order.
Although England achieved their initial objective of removing Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy, their chief tormentors yesterday, before lunch for 120 and 56 respectively after South Africa resumed on 262 for four, the so-called lesser batsmen proved equally obdurate.
Mark Boucher made a doughty 49, Paul Harris 38 and de Wet 20 at number 10 to deepen England’s frustration on an increasingly docile pitch and under an unremitting sun.
South Africa’s innings spanned more than five sessions, and left all but Graeme Swann and Graham Onions nursing unflattering bowling figures.
Off-spinner Swann defied predictions that seamers would dominate on a pitch tinged with green to claim 5-110 from 45.2 overs, while Onions, struck down by cramp in his calf yesterday, was rewarded for his perseverance with 3-86.
England’s failure to take a wicket in the final session on day one put greater emphasis on the need for an early breakthrough today, and James Anderson, who went wicketless yesterday, duly delivered after half an hour.
Having been punched down the ground by Duminy and cut behind square by Kallis, Anderson located the centurion’s outside edge with a delivery which held its line. Paul Collingwood took a regulation catch at second slip.
Duminy, 38 not out overnight, had gone to a 120-ball half-century earlier in the over, but saw an edge off Onions fall short of second slip before, pushing forward with an angled bat, he edged Swann to Collingwood.
Combining watchful defence with the occasional drive or cut, Boucher was nevertheless fortunate to see a top-edged pull off Stuart Broad, on 25, put down by a back-pedalling Onions, clearly wary of the rope at fine-leg.
During a particularly trying period for the tourists, Swann thought he had Boucher caught at slip after bottom-edging a sweep on to his boot, but replays showed the ball also hit the ground.
England’s misery was compounded when Swann won an lbw verdict against Morne Morkel in the final over before lunch, only for the batsman to refer Steve Davis’ decision, and third umpire Amiesh Saheba, on the advice of Hawk-eye, to rule that the ball was marginally clearing the stumps.
Morkel took a painful blow to the jaw when he ducked into an Onions bouncer shortly after the interval, and perished two overs later when he edged an attempted steer off the back foot to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
Following Boucher’s dismissal - caught at short-leg by Cook to give Swann a fourth wicket - Harris adopted the role of frustrater-in-chief, mixing the odd flamboyant drive with far less convincing defensive strokes off the back foot.
He too was thankful for a dropped catch when he made 24, Collingwood spilling a sharp one-handed chance to his left at slip at the expense of an increasingly exasperated Swann.
A bye took South Africa to 400, and a soporific 10-over spell before tea when South Africa managed just 11 runs was followed by the fall of two wickets in quick succession upon the resumption.
Harris played on as he essayed a flat-footed drive at Onions and Swann completed his third five-wicket haul in Tests by trapping de Wet lbw on the back foot. The inevitable review failed.
England’s response began in unconvincing fashion, with Cook dropped first ball by AB de Villiers at third slip off Makhaya Ntini before fatally following a delivery angled across him.
Strauss and Trott, however, refused to be cowed by a potentially perilous position, and both played with great common sense in ensuring that the England scorecard suffered no further damage.
Strauss pulled and cut Ntini for successive fours, while Trott survived a passionate lbw appeal from Harris - referred without success - to accompany his skipper to the close.