South Africa put first day blues well and truly behind them earlier today, restricting England to 385 in the first innings of the first Test on day two at the Kia Oval.
Under overcast skies, the Proteas’ mugged England to the tune of 118 for seven on the day and were 86 for one at close, meaning England lead by 299 runs.
The statistics tell the story of today’s three sessions – and the story is as absolutely South Africa’s as yesterday so obviously belonged to England, Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith combining in a bloody-minded and extremely useful unbroken second wicket stand of 85 to steer the ship to stumps.
Smith, beefy through the leg-side, is not out on 37, while Amla, with some exquisite cover-drives early on his innings, is still there on 47 not out.
Alviro Peterson was the Protea to lose his wicket, being caught leg before to a late-swinging inswinger from James Anderson for an eight-ball duck.
With better weather forecast for tomorrow, the Test is building in interest by the over. Tomorrow’s play will be important, Smith’s innings definitive and Amla’s only marginally less so.
What was different today for South Africa’s bowlers? They attacked the stumps, and were more aggressively direct. Morne Morkel was the pick of the bowlers, with a back-breaking four for 72, including the important wicket of Matt Prior for 60, the England ‘keeper feathering a catch to AB de Villiers behind the stumps.
But the deliveries of the innings surely came from Jacques Kallis and Vernon Philander. Kallis persuaded the bail of Ian Bell’s off-stump to topple with a delivery which appeared to flummox the England batsman by seaming towards the stumps after a succession of away-swingers, while Philander bowled Stuart Broad (16) with a booming in-swinger that brushed the top of middle stump.
Dale Steyn started the rot, inducing overnight centurion Alastair Cook to drag on for the addition of only a run. Cook was out for 115.
Ravi Bopara (0) then slapped a thin edge through to De Villiers off Steyn and South Africa were on their way, playing with an intensity and focus that had eluded them on a rum opening day.
De Villiers took five catches in the innings, while Steyn took two for 99 and Kallis two for 38, both proving to be the perfect foil for Morkel. Philander, who bowled better today than he did yesterday, took a wicket, while Imran Tahir also chipped in with a wicket – that of Tim Bresnan.