England tear up the script
Posted in England v South Africa - 2008
England may have come in for much criticism over the last couple of weeks, but no-one can accuse them of not providing their fair share of entertainment.
That they retain even the slightest hope of winning the third npower Test owes much to a sterling fightback which will ensure those in attendance at Edgbaston over the weekend have good reason to expect a thrilling climax.
Bowled out for just 231 inside the opening day on a true surface, England’s prospects appeared to heading the same way as Gordon Brown’s popularity as South Africa progressed to 226 for four yesterday.
Cue Andrew Flintoff’s heroic spell with the ball yesterday evening, transforming the complexion of a game that England must win to maintain their hopes of a series victory.
They followed that up with a bowling performance only marginally less impressive this morning, making short work of the South Africa tail to dismiss them for 314.
A first-innings deficit of 83 appeared manageable before England lost Alastair Cook and Michael Vaughan inside the opening hour of their response, then Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell either side of establishing a lead.
Perhaps we should not have been surprised, in a game containing more ups and downs than a day at Alton Towers, that England should chose the depths of 104 for four as the starting point for another spirited recovery.
That Kevin Pietersen was one of the central figures in the salvage operation hardly comes as a shock - it was, after all, the sort of high-pressure situation in which he seems to excel - but the contribution of Paul Collingwood will have surprised those who have seen him scratch together just 96 runs in 10 first-class innings this summer before today.
Their contributions were nothing short of magnificent, although Collingwood’s success in reaching three figures will spare Pietersen a certain amount of blame after England’s number four perished attempting to reach his century with a six.
That an almost identical - if better executed - stroke took Collingwood to his hundred should ensure negative comment about Pietersen’s dismissal is kept to a minimum, for the manner in which he imposed himself on the South Africa attack was cricket at its most compelling.
Before play, few would have envisaged slow left-armer Paul Harris bowling over the wicket into the rough - the ultimate admission that the bowling side has lost control - yet Pietersen, ever the showman, lit up the early stages of the evening session with two switch-hits for four in one particularly memorable over.
It was in keeping with a hugely unpredictable day that Pietersen departed when South Africa were at their lowest ebb, even more so that it was Harris - comfortably the least threatening of the tourists’ attack - who made the breakthrough.
Andrew Flintoff became his second victim four balls later as the odds on a South Africa victory tumbled once more, but the redoubtable Collingwood and the equally stoic Tim Ambrose set about repairing the damage during another resolute alliance.
Do not be fooled into thinking Collingwood’s progress was pedestrian, for he had required just 61 balls to bring up his half-century.
One suspected he may be content with occupation of the crease as a 43-over evening session entered its final throes, but that was to underestimate the adrenaline coursing through the veins of this most committed of cricketers.
Just moments after David Gower in the Sky commentary box suggested Collingwood would never contemplate going to a hundred with a six, the Durham man shocked those in Edgbaston and beyond by advancing down the track to drive Harris into the stand at long-on.
He and Ambrose successfully negotiated the remainder of the day to extend their side’s lead to 214 and frustrate South Africa to such an extent that thoughts of an England win are sure to sneak into the tourists’ minds as they contemplate what tomorrow brings.
However, if they have learned anything from what has gone on in this game so far, it is that any predictions are nigh on worthless.