Classy Cook gives England command
Alastair Cook compiled a chanceless unbeaten 114 and shared a partnership of 170 with Jonathan Trott as England dominated the opening day of the Investec Test series with South Africa at the Kia Oval.
Aided by another marathon innings from their dependable vice-captain, who now boasts 20 Test hundreds - the same number as his mentor Graham Gooch, the hosts reached stumps on 267 for three.
Cook’s alliance with Trott laid the platform following Andrew Strauss’ four-ball duck, while Kevin Pietersen also contributed 42 to a stand of 81 for the third wicket that enabled England to retain control of proceedings.
They were assisted by a true pitch offering even bounce and Strauss’ good fortune in winning the toss, but few could have anticipated how one-sided the day would prove.
In the build-up to this three-match rubber, much of the talk had centred on the quality within England and South Africa’s respective pace attacks and the stiff challenges awaiting batsmen on either team.
Yet a touring side spearheaded by Dale Steyn, the world’s number-one ranked bowler, struggled to make an impression following the early exit of Strauss, who was adjudged lbw to Morne Morkel in the opening over following a review.
Cook and Trott may not be the flashiest performers in world cricket, but their grit and determination is almost unparalleled among modern batsmen and these qualities came to the fore today.
The latter’s dismissal came as a surprise on two counts. Not only had he looked totally at ease in reaching 71, but the shot that led to his undoing - a lazy drive outside off stump against Morkel - represented an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration.
Cook was not to suffer a similar fate and progressed to his first hundred in 17 Test innings in the company of Pietersen.
As has so often been the case in his already-distinguished career, the left-hander combined rock-solid defence with a keenness to put away any loose deliveries, which were not in short supply.
His century arrived in the evening session, from 222 balls, and at no point did South Africa look likely to remove him from the crease, with leg-spinner Imran Tahir particularly ineffective.
Cook’s previous foray into three figures in the five-day format came at Edgbaston last summer, when he batted for almost 13 hours to record a sensational 294 against India.
He will surely be eyeing another huge score when play resumes tomorrow, although Pietersen’s own hopes of making a substantial impact ended when he was caught behind on the pull off Jacques Kallis.
That brought Ian Bell to the crease and he saw off the new ball with Cook to leave South Africa, who have designs on overhauling England at the top of the International Cricket Council Test rankings, with plenty to ponder.
Live Text Commentary
6:47pm - STUMPS - Eng 267/3; Cook 114, Bell 10 - South Africa are unable to claim another wicket before the close and that marks the end of a very satisfying day for England, particularly after they lost their captain in the first over. Cook has been the undoubted star of the show with his unbeaten hundred and he will hope to push his side on to a huge total tomorrow. Join us then.
6:35pm - Better from Steyn, who beats Bell’s tentative forward push and is unfortunate not to find the outside edge. Cook has scored just 11 from 53 deliveries since bringing up his century, but remains as unruffled as ever.
6:26pm - I knew that would bring a run or two. Bell drives Steyn through the covers for four to get off the mark with typical panache and follows up with a pull to the square-leg rope.
6:20pm - Three successive maidens with the new ball and it would appear Cook and new batsman Ian Bell are sensibly playing for the close. We have six overs to come tonight.
6:11pm - After a seemingly unnecessary extra over from Duminy, South Africa have taken the new ball and kept faith with Kallis from the Pavilion End following his breakthrough. He responds with a maiden and it will be Steyn to share the fresh cherry.
6pm - WICKET! Pietersen c de Villiers b Kallis 42; Eng 251/3 - Hang on, the Proteas have a wicket with the old ball! Pietersen attempts to pull Kallis into the River Thames and succeeds only in gloving one through to de Villiers.
5:56pm - Back-to-back maidens from Duminy and Kallis have at least stifled England. The new ball will be available shortly and South Africa need something special.
5:45pm - Not for the first time, South Africa look as though they are in need of a spark. Pietersen straight-drives Kallis for two and then connects much more cleanly with a similar shot to gain four more. He looks as though he is ready to have fun in the final hour of play.
5:32pm - Tahir has probably been the most disappointing performer of all today and you sense Pietersen is ready to get after the spinner. A dismissive pull for four takes England to 232 for two.
5:23pm – CENTURY! Cook (222b 11x4 1x6) – A single into the off side from Tahir takes Cook to a well-deserved ton. He has been a real rock today; there has barely been a false stroke from the Essex man. Pietersen then helps himself to two and that is the fifty partnership. England are in command!
5:12pm - A first display of authority from Pietersen sees the flamboyant number four pull Steyn through midwicket for four. That went like a rocket. Cook then slaps a rancid delivery from Tahir to the boundary to move to 95.
5:05pm - Cook eases Steyn through wide mid-on to move into the nineties. Another 10 runs would take him to 20 Test centuries, the same number as his mentor Graham Gooch.
4:57pm - Another wild shot from Pietersen, who has yet to settle; he flays Steyn over the slips for four to move into double figures. South Africa’s premier paceman is now gaining prodigious movement into the right-hander with the old ball.
4:49pm - After failing to connect cleanly with a cross-batted swipe at Steyn, Pietersen advances to Philander and just about clears mid-on with an ungainly shot. The next delivery is dealt with in much more orthodox fashion as Cook drives effortlessly down the ground for four. He is now unbeaten on 85.
4:40pm - Vernon Philander has replaced Kallis from the Vauxhall End, while Dale Steyn is back on in place of Morkel. This would be a good time for the world’s number one bowler to click into gear.
4:32pm - This is a really important spell now. If South Africa can sneak a couple more out, then the pain of the first two sessions will quickly disappear. England, by contrast, will be hoping for another substantial partnership. Pietersen got off the mark immediately, but has been otherwise subdued.
4:22pm – WICKET! Trott c de Villiers b Morkel 71; Eng 170/2 - Well it is fair to say that was unexpected. Trott drives loosely at a wide delivery from Morkel and is caught behind by AB de Villiers. A much-needed breakthrough for the tourists, who are greeted by the arrival of Kevin Pietersen.
4:20pm - Jacques Kallis always appears a reluctant bowler, which is a strange quirk for a man with 276 Test wickets. The all-rounder is called for a wide when bowling at Trott, but then gets one in the right area to Cook, who plays and misses; one of very few false shots from the opener.
4:14pm - Both Cook and Jonathan Trott have cruised along today with the minimum of fuss, but every now and then there has been a shot to quicken the pulse. On this occasion, Cook stands tall to cut Morkel for his eighth four. Lovely stuff.
4:04pm - The action is under way once more at the Kia Oval, with Morne Morkel bowling to Alastair Cook. How South Africa would love an early breakthrough after tea.
3:43pm – TEA – Eng 158/1; Cook 69, Trott 68 - Trott leans into a square-drive off Kallis, who has replaced Duminy, to take England beyond 150 before collecting another four with a pull off Tahir. An uneventful over from Kallis takes us to tea, with the hosts now in complete control.
3:30pm - If my updates appear to be lacking detail, that is simply because Cook and Trott are progressing so smoothly. There really is not too much to report – both men look as though they could bat all day, all week, all summer...
3:18pm - Trott unfurls a gorgeous drive to the cover boundary off Steyn. JP Duminy is then called upon from the Vauxhall End. No real surprise to see Graeme Smith trying an alternative option, with his frontline bowlers having failed to make an impression on a flat pitch.
3:10pm – FIFTY! Trott (127b 6x4 0x6) - It would appear there is no serious issue with Steyn’s fitness as he is back on from the Pavilion End. Trott then brings up his half-century by sneaking a single to point off Tahir. Yet another composed and valuable innings from the number three.
2:50pm - Steyn, who was the subject of various murmurings regarding his fitness prior to this game, has just received attention from the physio on a heavily strapped foot. The last thing the Proteas need is an injury to their star fast bowler. Trott, meanwhile, is closing in on a half-century and collects four more through the leg side off Tahir.
2:45pm - I cannot be the only one who is somewhat underwhelmed by South Africa’s efforts in the field. That should not detract, however, from the fine efforts of Trott and Cook, who have punished the bad balls while remaining solid in defence.
2:38pm - “Good ball Morne,” remarks a South African colleague in the press box as Trott leaves a length delivery. “Yes, but they have been too few and far between,” replies his companion. That pretty much sums up the tourists’ day thus far.
2:26pm - Cook is content to leave alone as Tahir and the returning Morne Morkel each bowl a number of unthreatening deliveries outside off stump. This is a little too easy for the hosts at the moment.
2:15pm – FIFTY - Cook (98b 7x4 1x6) - AND CENTURY PARTNERSHIP! – Leg-spinner Imran Tahir returns from the Vauxhall End and Cook rocks back to pull a long-hop through midwicket for four. That brings up the left-hander’s fifty, England’s 100 and the century partnership for the second wicket!
2:12pm - Philander is starting to cause Trott a few problems now. The Warwickshire batsman plays and misses on the drive and is then beaten again as he looks to play more cautiously off the back foot. A maiden is duly completed and South Africa could do with a few more overs like that if they are to build pressure here.
2:06pm - If you drop short at Philander’s pace, you will generally get punished. Trott pulls through midwicket for four, although the bowler responds well, beating the outside edge with one that shaped away appreciably. Cook then collects back-to-back fours off Steyn, courtesy of a flashing cut and an elegant push down the ground.
1:57pm - A maiden from Philander is followed by a probing over from Steyn, who is back over the wicket to Cook.
1:49pm - Easy pickings off Philander for England as Cook takes a single before his partner plays ‘The Trott Shot’ - that flick off the hips we all love so much - for two more. Dale Steyn starts at the other end, only for Cook to lean into a glorious cover drive. Confident stuff from England after the break.
1:40pm - The South Africa fielders, quickly followed by Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, take the field at the Kia Oval and we're almost ready to resume. Vernon Philander will bowl the first over of the afternoon.
1pm – LUNCH - Eng 70/1; Cook 27, Trott 33 - Imran Tahir bowls the final over before lunch, but makes little impression. After losing their captain in the first over, England could not have asked for more from that opening session. Join us shortly for the resumption of play.
12:53pm - Four bonus runs for England; Trott scrambles through for a leg bye and de Villiers’ shy at the non-striker’s end beats the diving Morkel, who was running round from mid-off to back up. Cook then top-edges a pull for six off Steyn! Good gracious! The bowler responds by striking Trott on the pad, but it looked to be missing off and South Africa’s appeal is turned down.
12:48pm - Just over 10 minutes until lunch and England’s progress has slowed. The batsmen are not being made to play enough, however, and will be more than happy with the situation.
12:40pm - The next man in for England will, of course, be Kevin Pietersen, who warmed up for this encounter with a spectacular unbeaten 234 for Surrey in the LV= County Championship last week. I always love watching KP bat, but hopefully it will be a while yet before we see him. Cook and Trott are looking good and the latter has just clipped Kallis through midwicket for his fourth four.
12:31pm - Steyn comes round the wicket to Cook, but England’s vice-captain remains untroubled. Trott then puts away another wide one from Kallis to take England to 50.
12:24pm - Jacques Kallis – a true great of the game – replaces Philander at the Pavilion End. His second ball is a bit of a shocker, in all fairness, and Cook gives it the treatment it deserves by finding the point fence.
12:19pm - It must be incredibly frustrating for opposition bowlers when Cook and Trott settle in as they have today. There may be more flamboyant batsmen in world cricket, but there can be few who possess the grit and determination of this pair, who continue to look at ease.
12:09pm - Not the best opening burst from dangerous Dale and Cook cuts the final delivery prior to drinks for four.
12:04pm - A leg-before appeal against Trott, this time from Morkel, is turned down. Replays show that one was clipping leg stump and a review would have proved unsuccessful. Cook then punches Philander down the ground for three. Steady progress from the second-wicket pair, but here comes Steyn!
11:53am - A classy clip through square-leg allows Trott to collect two more. We have seen that shot a fair few times. England have not had too many alarms since Strauss’ early departure and are now 26 for one.
11:44am - A first boundary for Alastair Cook, courtesy of a push past backward point off Morkel. Trott then survives an optimistic lbw shout from Philander, with the ball clearly a touch high. The floodlights are on at present and it is rather gloomy.
11:36am - Philander forces to Trott to play and miss outside off. AB de Villiers fumbled the ball and will be relieved that there was not an edge on that occasion. Trott angles the next delivery down to third man for his second four.
11:32am - Morkel – a man who approaches the crease in the manner of a Tyrannosaurus Rex - oversteps on two occasions in his second set of six. He has already sent down a number of loose deliveries, but crucially landed one in just the right spot to send England’s captain back to the pavilion.
11:26am - Jonathan Trott gets off the mark from the first delivery he faces by clipping Morkel through mid-on for four. A sloppy piece of fielding from Dale Steyn then allows England’s number three to pick up two more. Somewhat surprisingly, it is Vernon Philander who shares the new ball, rather than Steyn, and he is taken for three in his opening over.
11:18am – WICKET! Strauss lbw Morkel 0; Eng 0/1 – Not the best of starts for England! The giant Morne Morkel, bowling from round the wicket, raps Andrew Strauss on the pad with his fourth delivery. Umpire Steve Davis is unmoved, but a review works in South Africa’s favour!
11:13am - It looks as though most of the more threatening clouds have passed by, for the time being at least. Here come the two teams and the Investec Test series is about to begin!
11:04am - A big test ahead for England’s top order. Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will be eager to make an early impression. It promises to be a thrilling morning session.
10:55am - ENGLAND WIN THE TOSS AND BAT - “The wicket looks surprisingly dry and it should be a good wicket to bat first on,” says England skipper Strauss after his opposite number had called incorrectly. No surprises in either team. Tim Bresnan has edged out Steven Finn in the battle to be selected as the hosts’ third seamer, while South Africa name the same XI that featured in their last warm-up match against Kent.
10:50am - Play will start at 11:15am. The toss is imminent.
10:47am - No sign of the captains just yet I am afraid, although the umpires have emerged to check on conditions. It has stopped raining and the outer covers are being removed. Barring further rain, we should not be waiting too much longer.
10:33am - Hmm...forget that. The toss has now been put back. It has gone very grey and additional covers have been brought out. What a shame.
10:28am - Dear oh dear. The covers have been called for as a (hopefully brief) shower passes over. The toss will not be delayed, however.
10:22am - Although the likes of Dale Steyn and James Anderson have understandably commanded the greatest attention in recent weeks, it would be foolish to overlook the wonderful batting talent that is set to be on show. England’s top six appear in prime form, while South Africa boast a fearsome top order featuring the likes of Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers. The latter will keep wicket this week following the dreadful injury that ended Mark Boucher’s international career at Taunton.
10:17am - Much of the pre-series talk has centred on the battle between two formidable pace attacks. The toss will take place in around 15 minutes' time and we will then find out which group of bowlers we will see first.
10:10am - Graeme Smith, meanwhile, is preparing to play in his 100th Test. The powerful left-handed opener has led South Africa in the majority of his previous 99 appearances and insists he feels as fresh as ever heading into this game.
10:07am - I am pleased to report that there are sections of blue sky overhead. We are not expecting to make it through the day without a shower or two, but hopefully we will see plenty of action. Both captains spoke to the media yesterday, by the way, and you can read Andrew Strauss’ thoughts here.
10am - Good morning from the Kia Oval and welcome to ecb.co.uk’s live coverage of the first Investec Test between England and South Africa. The title of the world’s number one Test team is up for grabs in this series and there is a real sense of excitement here as the players go about their warm-up routines.