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22nd over: South Africa 52-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 28, Amla 23) Tim Bresnan is coming on for Stuart Broad (10-4-20-0). This is his first Test against South Africa. His first spell is flipped through the leg side for three by Amla to bring up a calm and very accomplished fifty partnership.
“Here’s a quick cricket trivia question for you: Which GB 2012 Olympic squad boasts a member who has a first class century to their name?” says Phil Russell. “Extra points if you can name them.” No idea. Is it a trick question?
21st over: South Africa 48-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 27, Amla 20) “The trouble with a hip flask is it’s a bit of a give away if found,” says Phil Sawyer. “Geoffrey Smith should empty a two litre bottle of spring water and fill it full of vodka instead. The stewards should be clueless until you slump over the person sat in front of you and start frothing at the mouth.” And even that could feasibly just be a reaction to the sun.
20th over: South Africa 45-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 25, Amla 19) Broad switches around the wicket to Smith, who crunches him through midwicket for four.
19th over: South Africa 39-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 19, Amla 19) That’s a much better over for South Africa, with Smith and Amla milking Swann for five. “They always said that the sightscreen at St. John’s had to be enlarged as Curtly’s hand was so high up he was releasing the ball to a backdrop of the Antiguan hills,” says Adam Roberts. “What a bowler! Too often overlooked in discussions of great West Indian quicks, somewhat overshadowed by C Walsh’s records achieved mainly through remarkable fitness and longevity but not anything like the standard of Ambrose.” He did make Cricinfo’s all-time West Indies XI, mind.
18th over: South Africa 34-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 17, Amla 16) England are building pressure through dot balls. Another maiden from Broad to Amla, and we’ve had just seven runs in six overs since the resumption.
“Watching the Ambrose video, and I was wondering if anyone can match him for the style of his appealing,” says Joseph Streeter. “That way of clapping his hands and pointing directly at the umpire looks fantastic. The bowling wasn’t bad either.” Too right. That would definitely be in the Joy of Six: Cool Appeals. Dominic Cork’s groinbuster would not.
17th over: South Africa 34-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 17, Amla 16) A jaffa from Swann spits past Smith’s defensive grope to hit the back pad and prompt a huge LBW shout. It looked a touch high, and when Steve Davis said not out England decided not to review. Hawkeye shows it was indeed going over the top, although the extent to which that ball turned will encourage England.
“May I share my birthday present with you and the other follower?” says Ian Copestake. “My mum sent me a birthday card with a picture of Les Dawson in drag on it, and the following philosophical comment: ‘I went to my doctor and asked for something for persistent wind. He gave me a kite.’”
16th over: South Africa 33-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 17, Amla 15) Another quiet over from Broad, who isn’t making the batsmen play as much as he would like. These little sessions are always awkward for a batting side, although South Africa will be keen to accentuate the positive. If they close today on, say, 80 for one, and the sun shines tomorrow, they could put England under significant pressure.
“I’m following from a rather large meeting of a UN body in Geneva,” writes Stuart Hamilton. “Lord knows it’s good to have the OBO to keep an eye on during Friday night textual negotiations. Mmm, Friday night textual negotiations. Not much to report but I can tell you that the Indian delegate has apparently been seen streaming Indian cricket during downtime in discussions. Considering the nature of the institution I am currently in, this is rather interesting. No sign of the South African delegate this evening….”
15th over: South Africa 32-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 17, Amla 14) Swann has a short leg and slip for Smith. These two had an excellent battle back in 2009-10, in the second innings of the third Test I think. Smith defends watchfully in that over, a maiden. “Can anyone advise on the realities of the ban on alcohol being brought in to the ground?” says Geoffrey Smith. “If I conceal my hip flask somewhere about my wife’s person tomorrow, surely they aren’t going to find it with one of those airport scanner doo-hickeys, are they?” This sounds like the prologue to an episode of Carry On Cricket.
14th over: South Africa 32-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 17, Amla 14) It’s Stuart Broad at the other end rather than Jimmy Anderson. A quiet over, with no movement in the air or off the pitch, yields a couple.
“Thanks so much (and the brilliant Robelinda) for the Curtlyporn,” says Paddy Blewer. “There was a time in the 90′s where if you were or aspired to be a fast bowler, you wanted to be Curtley, even if you were a Brit/Irish skinny kid from South London. In what was probably the last great era for fast bowling around the world, Curtly stood out for me as the first name on my ‘team to play the Martians’ list.” As has been said before, it really was a golden age of fast bowling: Waqar and Wasim, Ambrose and Walsh, McGrath and Gillespie, Donald and Pollock, Gough and Caddick, Srinath and Prasad, Vaas and, er, Vaas.
13th over: South Africa 30-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 16, Amla 13) Graeme Swann is going to start this vital mini session. He has won Tests on this ground in 2009 and 2011 and is probably the likeliest match-winner for England. Amla tries to drive his second ball, which turns enough to take the inside edge before deflecting onto the pad not far wide of the stumps.
5.47pm Play will restart at 5.55pm, and we’ll have a maximum of 27 overs before the revised close at 7.30pm.
5.44pm I’d forgotten all about Jimmy’s haircut phase. Look at this.
5.42pm “Any chance of a mention for yesterday’s Chucks as we wait for play?” says Sam Collins. “It’s got analysis from Ken Clarke and some fortune-telling.”
5.36pm Here’s Tony Greig hailing the same wicket eight times in as many seconds. In fairness, it was a hat-trick ball.
5.34pm The title of this clip says it all really.
5.25pm The umpires are going to inspect in 15 minutes’ time. The sun is out and the forecast is decent, so we should get 20-25 overs.
5.11pm If you have no plans for the next eight minutes 58 seconds, please watch this magnificent video. It is porn of a sort, Curtlyporn, but it’s safe for work.
5pm Play can go on until 7.30pm, which is great news on a Friday evening. It looks like a lot brighter in, er, Kings Cross, and we probably will get a fair bit of play, around an hour and a half.
5pm This should cheer everyone up.
4.57pm Set your alarm for 9am tomorrow. Cricket AM has a mighty line-up: David Lloyd is co-presenting, and the guests include the Inspiral Carpets and Trigger from Only Fools and Horses.
4.55pm “Here is something that won’t cheer any cricket fan up I’m afraid,” says Rob Lee-Davey. “Watch it and weep.”
4.46pm It has stopped raining, but the clean-up job will take a while, maybe up to an hour according to David Gower on Sky. Anything to talk about?
4.43pm “He was Warne’s bunny, but when facing other bowlers Darryl Cullinan was one of the most graceful, elegance batsmen I’ve seen,” says Richard Mansell. “Some of his drives and cuts were examples of beauty in sport. Here he is putting England to the sword.”
A delightful talent. His second-innings knock in Devon Malcolm’s game was an innings of rare class and authority. He was the only one who wasn’t hurried. Apparently (I think this was in Allan Donald’s autobiography) he sat there in a vile mood while Malcolm cleaned up the top order, then when his turn game he banged his bat, shouting “Just effing watch me!” to the dressing room and marched to the crease to make a gorgeous 94. An overall average of 44 is very good for somebody who played in the 1990s.
4.36pm “Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Giggs – started off as young players capable of frustration and moments of natural genius in equal measure. Giggs couldn’t cross (city November ’93 excepted) and gave the ball away, whereas Anderson leaked runs (that unbelievable spell of 10 overs for 12 runs in the one-dayers in Australia is the exception),” says Jonathan Lewis. “Early career injuries, doubts and loss of confidence, followed by re-emergence as mature players with a complete understanding of their own game and masters of their sport. Giggs is less explosive, but more effective and since 2006 has had his most consistent game-changing period of his career. Anderson doesn’t bowl flat out but is in complete control of his bowling and is the world’s best swing bowler. Both are quiet guys who lead by example and are totally dedicated to their profession. Lastly, I don’t think either Giggs or Anderson are appreciated enough and it will only be in retirement that people realise just how good they were. What do you reckon?”
It’s a nice comparison but I’m not sure I completely agree. Giggs’s best years were between maybe 1997 and 2002, in my invariably humble one. I think his contribution in recent years has been overplayed a touch, with sentiment polluting many judgements. Do you think Anderson is underappreciated? I don’t get that sense personally, but I’m not on Twitter so I don’t really know these things.
4.25pm It could, I suppose, be worse.
4.22pm “If the clouds do let up, we shall have another late finish, which means more frantic work by Channel Five,” says John Starbuck. “There’s a job with pressure – cricket highlights editor working to snip the programme to the right length while the match is still on.” Too right. I’ve no idea how people manage to work so well with such tight deadlines.
4.16pm Some rain-break entertainment. Here’s the first ever six in one-day internationals, by Ian Chappell off Ray Illingworth, and here’s John Davison hitting one of the biggest sixes imaginable during the 2003 World Cup.
4.12pm Yes, yes, I typed crowds rather than clouds. What’s your point? Would you like some?
4.10pm It’s pelting down now, so heavily that you half expect a lovesick John Cusack to rock up. I’d say the players will be off for a while.
RAIN STOPS PLAY. 12th over: South Africa 27-1 (in reply to England’s 385; Smith 16, Amla 10) There are some seriously malevolent crowds loitering around The Oval, and the floodlights are too long, so you would expect the ball to swing for as long as the players are on the field. It might not be too long. Smith muscles Broad off the hip for two to conclude a quiet over, and now the covers are come on. There are a few boos. No idea why, as the rain is heavy enough. People like being offended these days.
Hello. We have a long evening session ahead: 41 overs to complete what has so far been an outstanding day’s Test cricket. Then we can all go the pub for Evan Fanning’s leaving do. At the moment I suppose you’d prefer to be in England’s pants, although these next few wickets will take a dealing of getting. Only two overseas batsmen in history – you’ll never guess who – have a higher average in England than Graeme Smith, while Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla all average over 60 in Tests this decade.
11th over: South Africa 25-1 (Smith 14, Amla 10) Smith whips away another single off his pads – I might be mistaken but at least 13 of his 14 have come in the same area just backward of square leg. Tea, and perhaps the odd slice of flapjack or fruitloaf, is calling for bowler and batsman, but Amla has his mind on the game enough to drive Anderson neatly through the covers for four. And again – a carbon copy brings four more. And that’s tea. Rob Smyth will be here after the break to take you through a big final session. Tell him how glad you are to see him: firstname.lastname@example.org
10th over: South Africa 16-1 (Smith 13, Amla 2) Broad to Amla: dot, dot, dot, dot, dot … dot. Amla’s now faced 22 balls for his two runs. Just time to squeeze one more over in before tea.
9th over: South Africa 16-1 (Smith 13, Amla 2) Anderson (4-2-6-1) prods and probes at Smith like a surgeon investigating a particularly irksome ingrowing toenail. From the last he’s properly done by one that goes away but somehow doesn’t take the edge.
8th over: South Africa 16-1 (Smith 13, Amla 2) It’s spitting! IT’S SPITTING! But we should make it to tea I would think. Broad smacks Amla on the pad and appeals with plenty of oomph, but it’s going well over. Next up he’s beating the bat and thwacking the pad again. An over crammed full of threat and bursting at the seams with ominousness.
7th over: South Africa 16-1 (Smith 13, Amla 2) The umpires have a quick chat about the drizzle, but they’re going to battle on. Smith, who has the sort of batting stance that suggests he’s permanently cowering under an invisible deluge, shows what he thinks by playing and missing, then squinting angrily at the skies. Anderson scurries back to his mark in order to take advantage of the Saffer skipper’s discomfort, but can only offer him a four ball on the pads.
6th over: South Africa 11-1 (Smith 9, Amla 1) Broad again strays leggishly and Smith crunches him away for four in front of square.
5th over: South Africa 5-1 (Smith 3, Amla 1) So Anderson gets an early look at the first barrier in arguably the best three, four, five in the world. Amla averages 46 in England, but has only twice scored over 50 in his eight innings on these shores. “With Petersen falling for 0 and Bopara registering a duck too I see that Alastair Cook is still the highest-scoring Essex batsman today,” notes Paul Frame.
4th over: South Africa 4-1 (Smith 3, Amla 1) Broad beats Smith again with another cracker that shapes away and misses the edge by a whisker. He drifts on to the pads with a couple, though, giving the South African captain a couple of simple singles.
3rd over: South Africa 1-1 (Smith 1, Amla 0) A wicket maiden from Anderson.
Peterson Pietersen Pyetrzen Petersen 0 lbw b Anderson (South Africa: 1-1) Anderson strikes early with a gorgeous piece of swing bowling. A couple go away, then comes the inswinger, homing in on Petersen’s pads like a heatseeker. It thwocks satisfyingly into the back pad, the finger goes up instantly and Smith quite rightly refuses to recommend wasting a review.
2nd over: South Africa 1-0 (Smith 1, Peterson 0) The in-form Stuart Broad takes the new ball at the other end and from his fifth ball produces the first false shot from Smith with one that straightens up. “Alviro Petersen spells his surname the same way I do (no relation),” writes Kat
Peterson Pietersen Pyetrzen Petersen. “That is all.”
1st over: South Africa 1-0 (Smith 1, Peterson 0) Three slips and a gully as Anderson roars in to start things off. It’s a good time to bowl – clouds coming in again and the atmosphere enlivened by some lunchtime refreshment.
England emerge from their huddle to take the field. Smith and Peterson stride out to open the innings.
England: 385 all out. “Regarding Derek Harris’s 111th over e-mail,” writes Nick Williamson, “does he have any long odds tips for The Open?”
WICKET! Anderson 2 c De Villiers b Morkel (England: 385 all out) Anderson gets off the mark with a flick off his ankles, but next up he’s gone – a tickle off the gloves through to De Villiers to give Morkel his fourth wicket.
WICKET! Prior 60 c De Villiers v Morkel (England: 383-9) A very fine counterattacking innings from Matt Prior comes to an end. He’ll be annoyed with the dismissal – it was an airy push at a slightly wide one from Morkel – but he’s done an excellent job for his team.
125th over: England 383-8 (Prior 60, Swann 15) Tahir returns … and Swann paddle-sweeps for four. “Me thinks this is the difference between these two bowling attacks,” fate-tempts Martin Crosoer. “England’s can bat, South Africa’s can’t.”
124th over: England 379-8 (Prior 60, Swann 11) The latest forecasts suggest it should be raining by 4pm, but we’ve got sunshine at The Oval now. And England are in the ascendancy. A coincidence? Do I know what rhetorical means? Morne Morkel returns, but the pattern continues.
123rd over: England 376-8 (Prior 58, Swann 10) Swann pivots and, one-footed, smites Steyn away to cow corner for four. Two balls later he’s on the front foot, stroking a glorious drive through wide mid-off for four more.
122nd over: England 366-8 (Prior 57, Swann 1) The camera finds the policemen from the massively underrated sitcom Early Doors in The Oval crowd. This makes Bumble very happy.
121st over: England 365-8 (Prior 56, Swann 1) Those ominous clouds seem to have shuffled mercifully onwards. Steyn welcomes Swann to the wicket by smashing him on the helmet with a bouncer which results in a) a skull-rattling blow for the batsman and b) four leg byes. From the final ball he thwocks into Swann’s pads, but the strangled appeal fails to impress the umpire.
120th over: England 358-8 (Prior 54, Swann 0) Prior pushes for four to bring up his fifty. It’s been an innings split into two – survival followed by something approaching domination of the attack, certainly since lunch. If you were feeling harsh, you might suggest it’s been just the sort of innings that you’d hope for from your No6. The loss of Broad, though, breaks the spell.
WICKET! Broad b Philander 16 (England: 358-8) Philander grabs his first wicket with a jaffa, swinging in, romping through the gate, and clipping the top of the bails.
119th over: England 353-7 (Prior 49, Broad 16) Broad is struggling to cope with Steyn’s vicious nipple-high short balls, but the bowler just can’t find the edge. His mood isn’t helped by a bit of run confusion that leads to a couple of overthrows, nor by a sumptuous drive from Broad that races to the boundary.
118th over: England 344-7 (Prior 47, Broad 9) Philander strays wide and Prior – who has emerged from an early edgy staccato jazz phase into a period of stadium-filling anthems – cuts imperiously, thunderously for four. He’s one shot from a very, very useful half century.
117th over: England 339-7 (Prior 42, Broad 9) Fittingly, with what appears to be a cataclysmic brute of a rainstorm closing in over the pavilion, Steyn returns to the attack. Prior smites him for runs either side of the wicket – a couple chipped into the leg side, four guided at fielder-baiting pace through point. Broad doesn’t find things quite so easy – he’s twice a gnat’s wing away from gloving through to De Villiers as Steyn tunes up for some sweet chin music.
116th over: England 331-7 (Prior 36, Broad 8) Prior, you feel, holds the key here. A punchy 70-odd from him would see England into a very strong position. Philander continues after the extended break and keeps it tidy until overpitching with the final ball of the over – Prior straight-pushes effortlessly for four.
Good news! Here come the players.
BAH! The covers are on. Umbrellas are up. We have drizzle – perhaps a bit of that fine rain that soaks you through – so the afternoon session has been delayed.
Afternoon all. Either a mud-caked Winnie-the-Pooh has grabbed a balloon and taken to the skies above south London in search of honey, or there’s a few rainclouds about. But the latest forecasts suggest that The Oval somehow survives unscathed in a what appears to be a game of meteorological Battleships played with showers. Fingers crossed we escape because this match beautifully poised at the moment.
115th over: England 326-7 (Prior 32, Broad 8) Tahir drags one down, but Prior can only pull for a single. That leaves Broad facing the spinner he’s struggled to pick thus far. He’s beats him again and whaps him on the pad. Again the appeal is turned down, again there’s a review more optimistic than a snake in a shoe shop, and again it’s the umpire’s call. Broad was well outside the line. Another ball grips and turns and pops up off the bat, dropping safe. And this pair have survived through to lunch.
114th over: England 324-7 (Prior 31, Broad 7) Philander has never failed to take a wicket in the first innings of a Test – in fact, only once has he taken fewer than three. He’s yet to get one here. His second ball strays right into Broad’s slot and gets powerfully crashed away through the covers as a result.
113rd over: England 317-7 (Prior 30, Broad 1) Tahir is so quick in his approach for a spinner – he charges in like he’s just heard some good news that he can’t wait to tell the non-striker. England nudge and nurdle three singles.
112th over: England 314-7 (Prior 28, Broad 0) Philander returns for a quick blast before lunch, and he finds Prior’s edge once more. Again though soft hands and slow pitch conspire to see the ball drop short of the slips. Broad gets smacked resoundingly on the pad by an inswinger, is given not out, and we’ve got a review on our hands. It’s a may-as-well review, seeing as the Saffers have a couple spare, so it’s no surprise to see the ball clipping the outside of leg and the on-field call remaining intact.
111st over: England 313-7 (Prior 27, Broad 0) “Will 380 all out be enough to build a lead, or do we need more than 400 for security?” wonders Derek Harris in an email that is either a) optimistic to a point that would interest the men in white coats or b) was sent at 10.59 this morning and has only just arrived in my inbox.
WICKET! Bresnan 8 b Tahir (England: 313-7) Another one bites the dust, and again it’s a oddly sloppy dismissal. Imran Tahir comes on for his first spell of the day. Yesterday he found some turn – but nothing like enough accuracy – and the ball that does for Bresnan has neither really. It’s wide, too short … and bottom-edged onto his stumps by the batsman.
110th over: England 312-6 (Prior 26, Bresnan 8) Prior opens the face of the bat to guide Morkel away for four wide of the slips. Then it’s back to something more familiar – the ball somehow scooting past Prior’s bat as it wibbles nervously outside off. Then it’s four more – Prior rocking back and belting him through the covers. It’s a good contest now.
109th over: England 302-6 (Prior 17, Bresnan 8) Bresnan drops to his front knee to play the shot of the morning – a thrilling cover drive with potatoes and all the trimmings – to bring up England’s 300.
108th over: England 297-6 (Prior 17, Bresnan 4) Dropped! Rudolph is left red
-nosed -faced after Morkel finds Prior’s edge. It zips to gully, perhaps a foot off the deck, where Rudolph spills it. One of those that fall into the centre of the Venn diagram of Tough and Should have been held.
107th over: England 297-6 (Prior 17, Bresnan 3) Kallis seems to be physically tiring just a touch now, but the brain is still running at full pelt. Again he almost flummoxes the batsman with an inswinger that Prior leaves then watches fizz worryingly close to the off stump. Kallis’s spell: 4-4-0-1
106th over: England 297-6 (Prior 17, Bresnan 3) Morkel has been looking to rough Prior up with his short stuff, but it’s been hit-and-miss. Prior goes on the offensive with a mighty pull – the sort of pull that wears leather boots and drives a truck – that breaks the shackles somewhat.
105th over: England 291-6 (Prior 11, Bresnan 2) Kallis, a fusion of bowling machine and oak wardrobe, keeps it neat and tidy again. The threat level just fading a touch …
“I was actually rather dreading England easing to 500 for this innings,” writes Tom Bonsell confusingly. “Lord knows it wouldn’t be a) Cricket b) English and c) Summer if we didn’t have a batting collapse and miserable weather to moan about. I, for one, can’t wait for the inevitable conversations down the pub this weekend, all of which will no doubt start with: ‘Urrrrggghhh….we could’ve made a real statement of intent there…’”
104th over: England 290-6 (Prior 11, Bresnan 2) This is what South Africa were supposed to bring to the table in this series – unrelenting pressure. Pretty much every other team in world cricket (bar England?) have a bowler or two to keep out, then a couple of which to plunder. South Africa, with Steyn, Philander, Morkel and Kallis in these conditions, don’t offer that respite. And, predictably, after typing that Morkel bowls the worst over of the day so far – too short and too wide, with a couple of no balls thrown in for good measure.
“Early afternoon Ashdown, early afternoon everybody,” begins optismism’s Josh Robinson. “It’s all very well for Naylor to contemplate a Brearleyesque declaration, but even Brearley never quite had a lower order of quite this quality at his disposal. The runs scored by Swann and Broad were invaluable in the 2009 Ashes, and now they’re both batting a place lower. Even from this position I wouldn’t bet against England to get close to or even above 400.”
103rd over: England 286-6 (Prior 11, Bresnan 1) Kallis threatens to do unto Bresnan as he did unto Bell – the batsman leaves, but this time the ball is a whisker away from the stumps. Another inswinger ambles through the gate as Bresnan aims an airshot drive through the covers.
102nd over: England 286-6 (Prior 11, Bresnan 1) And with England reeling, in comes Morne Morkel to skim one past Prior’s edge and then end the over by getting England’s wicketkeeper hopping and fending at a bouncer, clipping the top edge but landing safe a couple of yards from the crease. “Should England essay a Brearleyeeque declaration and get Jimmy on?” ponders Gary Naylor. “In these conditions, he might bowl them out twice by tea.”
101st over: England 284-6 (Prior 10, Bresnan 0) That was quite beautiful from Kallis – a little symphony of an over. England are 17 for three this morning, from 11 overs.
WICKET! Bell b Kallis 13 (England: 284-6) We’re in proper collapse territory now. Kallis comes into the attack and finds some meaty movement off the seam, movement enough to do for Bell. A couple move away, the next goes straight on and the fourth jags back in an clips the top of the off bail with Bell playing no stroke.
100th over: England 284-5 (Bell 13, Prior 10) Prior, looking about as comfortable as a plump chicken stuck in a lift with Fantastic Mr Fox, drives wildly at one is is fortunate to see it squirt low through the slips for four more. Philander offers relief with a no ball and then a wide one but this time Prior misses out.
99th over: England 279-5 (Bell 13, Prior 6) Steyn strays wide and Prior gratefully smashes the thing square for four. Two balls later it shout be all over for Ian Bell – Prior cuts low and charges off for a single but Alviro Peterson makes a fine diving stop in the gully. Both batsmen are stuck in the middle of the track, with Bell plodding on knowing his goose is probably cooked, but the shy at the stumps is wild and wide.
98th over: England 273-5 (Bell 12, Prior 1) “Is it me, or is it just blindingly obvious that Bopara is not and never will be a Test-class player?” roars John Cox. “I don’t know anyone who thinks he is or ever will be, with the exception of the England selectors.” It’s pretty clear there’s a nugget of brilliance in there – bringing it out is the issue. And, to be fair, South Africa are a changed team here, herring turned hammerheads. Philander whisks two past Prior’s outside edge then a third low off the edge and into the turf towards first slip.
97th over: England 273-5 (Bell 12, Prior 1) Steyn’s dander is very much up – nostrils flared, the shard of steel in the eye, the classic there’s-so-much-fury-in-here-I-can-barely-keep-it-in jaw. Prior gets hammered on the pad, and another appeal falls on deaf ears – it’s clipping but Smith and co sensibly opt not to refer.
96th over: England 272-5 (Bell 12, Prior 0) “On behalf of England fans everywhere, I’d like to
throttle thank Tim Lester (91st over) for applying the finest kiss of death to a batsman I’ve ever seen. Chapeau,” writes Neil Withers. “And there goes Bopara – it was so good it did for two of them!” The glacial iceberg certainty of day one has been replaced by the slushy meltwater of doubt this morning. Steyn has done the damage, but Philander has played his part. Again he keeps Bell honest with an over of Boa-like tightness.
95th over: England 272-5 (Bell 12, Prior 0) So, with Steyn having found his missing mojo, England are 3 for 2 so far today.
WICKET! Bopara 0 c De Villers b Steyn (England 272-5) Yuk. This is ugly. Steyn had already stung a static Bopara on the knee roll, but opted against a review, but the next is banged in short, Bopara begins a hook, then opts out but leaves his bat dangling a shoulder height – a feathery top edge goes through to Steyn. Not one for Ravi’s Big Book of Fond Cricket Memories.
94th over: England 272-4 (Bell 12, Bopara 0) So then, an intriguing little innings for Ravi Bopara, for whom three is the magic number. It’s over three years since the last of his three Test-match tons, and this is perhaps his third chance to cement a place in the side. Philander keeps it tight, just a leg bye from the over.
93rd over: England 271-4 (Bell 12, Bopara 0) That was a cracking piece of bowling by Steyn, a wicket earned with three or four balls worth of accurate, smart stuff.
WICKET! Cook 115 b Steyn (England: 271-4) A collector’s item here – Cook edges! It was a little grope outside off stump, played with soft enough hands (and thanks to the lack of pace in the pitch) that dropped a good couple of yards short of Graeme Smith at first slip. But two balls later, he’s gone! Steyn shaped this one back in, found the inside edge and the stumps. As predicted, there was that brief moment of disbelieving shock before the applause began.
92nd over: England 271-3 (Cook 115, Bell 12) Vernon Philander, the first Test match Vernon in over a century, rumbles in from the other end. Third up he thwocks Cook on the top of the pad sparking an appeal that was, like the ball, slightly OTT. Some decent movement in the air, though.
91st over: England 269-3 (Cook 114, Bell 11) Unlike yesterday, it’s Dale Steyn to bowl the first over of the day. Bell and Cook are neatly watchful to some quick, straight stuff.
“I once had the privilege of seeing A Cook bat as a schoolboy,” writes Tim Lester. “I was escorting a team of slightly hapless schoolboys from Sydney around England on tour. They/we pitched up at Cook’s school where a former colleague of mine said that they had a ‘quite good’ batter as their captain. First ball of the day Cook creamed (there is no other word) the ball at mid-on who just about parried it, preventing the first of the many boundaries to follow. ‘Thanks,’ I said to my former colleague. ‘This bloke is going to be fun for my 15 year old bowlers to toil against.’ He scored a faultless 100. It was exactly like yesterday’s effort. Certain, serene, measured, flourishless, modestly carried out, tinged with the inevitable. The bloke is our era’s Hammond. I suspect he will be regarded as quite a lot better than Gooch. I hope he gets a double today. Here’s to him *sound of Australian Chardonnay being glugged*.”
Here come the umpires, followed in short order by the players.
Weather watch dept. After a quick soaking as I ran to the shop to buy cat food at 7.30 this morning I can confirm there is plenty of rain about in the London area, and the forecast isn’t great. This afternoon is likely to be very disrupted, but we should get some play before lunch as the gloaming gloomy skies over The Oval are thus far hanging on to their watery payload.
In South Africa’s defence this pitch could not have been much friendlier to the batsmen if it had hopped up and offered to give Jonathan Trott a backrub. A couple of quick wickets under the cloudy south London skies this morning and they’ll be right back in the game. That’s easier said that done, though, with Cook in the sort of form that means when his wicket finally falls, as it surely will at some point, there’ll be a disbelieving hush around The Oval before the applause begins.
… yesterday Cook tapped and tickled the ball around with the sort of perfect ease that (unfortunately) reminded me of this chap:
Morning all. Alastair Cook resumes of 114 at The Oval this morning in the middle of an innings in which at times yesterday could make you believe that the last 135 years of Test match history were something of a sham. For a century and a bit of batsmen have been making the art of scoring runs look so difficult …