South Africa completed a very impressive victory in the opening Test at the Oval on Monday as they beat England by an innings and 12 runs. Dale Steyn (5-56) was the destroyer in chief as England were bowled out for 240 in the afternoon session of the final day. It was Steyn’s 18th five-wicket haul (in 56 Tests) as he overtook Makhaya Ntini (17 from 100 Tests) to instill himself in second place on that list of South Africans behind Allan Donald (20 from 72 Tests).
Smith’s declaration at tea on day five came before the pundits predicted but the move proved canny as he not only maximized the number of overs a knackered England had to face yesterday but the 252 runs needed to make South Africa bat again, potentially without enough time to achieve the target, seemed to play into the tourists hands as England lost wickets by looking to score runs. Had he declared an hour later, they may have been a great deal more defensive.
Only Ian Bell (55) had any success in playing for survival as he kept out 220 deliveries and gave England a real chance of saving this match during partnerships with Bopara (22) and Prior (40). But the second new ball became available not long after lunch and when Dale Steyn took four very quick 3-8 from four overs with the new nut, it was apparent that things would probably be done by tea. England and Bell had resisted enough to make their fans believe it could be saved but the reality was that the task at hand was just too difficult after losing four cheap wickets on the evening of day five.
Imran Tahir justified his selection in the side with a tidy 3-63 (32 overs). His wicket of Prior, who was looking to slog sweep the leg-break bowler in his quest for cheap runs before the new ball, brought on the collapse and turned the game back in South Africa’s favour just as victory seemed to be slipping away.
A glance at the scorecard reveals a very one-sided match where South Africa took 20 wickets and England took two, and this after England won a good toss. In terms of runs runs per wicket by the two teams it was the most one-sided match in history. Of course these stats can be misleading but England did squander a good start of 250/2 on day one and it will be that they started well and were then demolished that will make this crushing defeat all the more painful. What can’t be understated is that the only time in the match that the overhead conditions suited the bowling side was on the morning of day two when England lost seven wickets for 113 runs. Ironically, they had the better of the conditions.
South Africa had not won a Test at the Oval in their 13 previous attempts – the first of which was in 1907 – that hoodoo is now broken and the Proteas will go into the next Test at Headingley, as the favourite to win their match. But as a stats man pointed out to me this morning, South Africa all too often go defensive after a win and you have to trawl 18 Tests into their history to find an occasion where they won back to back fixtures.
Graeme Smith raced from the post-match presentation to the airport, where he hopes to see the birth of his first child and return in time for next Thursday’s second Test.
Despite his ‘keeper dropping two catches in the second innings, coach Gary Kirsten indicated after the match that AB de Villiers would continue to keep wicket for the side and not Thami Tsolekile who was flown over as Mark Boucher’s replacement.
Losing captain Andrew Strauss said at the post-match press conference, “Ultimately though you just have to say, we were outplayed.
“There’s stuff to look at. We have 2 matches to go and win now. South Africa had a psychological advantage after making us field so well and we didn’t react well to that.
“We should have come out of this game with a draw… it was still a pretty flat wicket on day five. It is a surprising that we lost but South Africa are a good side and good sides don’t let you back into a game after you make mistakes, which we did.”
Day 4 Report
Hashim Amla made history at the Oval as he became the first South African to score a Test triple-hundred. Amla’s marathon 789-minute effort at the crease resulted in an enormous 311 not out that propelled South Africa (637-2 declared) to a 252-run lead and drained the home side’s energy levels before they were asked to bat at tea time. In reply England are in all kinds of trouble at 102/4, still 150 runs behind South Africa’s first innings score.
Since England ended the first day on 267/3 South Africa have convincingly had the better of the last six straight sessions of this intriguing match. Jacques Kallis (182 not out) and Graeme Smith (131) batted with Amla in relentless partnerships of 377 and 259 runs respectively that knocked the wind out of England’s sails.
South Africa’s bowlers took a wicket apiece as England failed to put up a fight. Cook was caught behind off Philander without scoring and Trott (10) fell In the same fashion to Dale Steyn as he once again lapsed in concentration and played a nothing shot at a ball that should have been left alone. Kevin Pietersen (16) then had his middle stump smashed by a fast and straight Morne Morkel delivery and Andrew Strauss (27) was caught when he top-edged Imran Tahir on the sweep. That wicket of England’s captain capped a day that was the stuff of dreams for any cricket side.
It was a day for the numbers men occupied with the job they so enjoy of compiling statistics as an array of records were broken. It was the first time England conceded consecutive 250-run partnerships and that kind of thing. As happy about it as anyone else will be Graeme Smith, who may have been considerably out-scored by Amla and Kallis, but for whom his 131 runs and his teams excellent performance surely silence the critics of his tenure as captain and opener.
It was a very sunny day at the Oval and the pitch, which has been ridiculously good for batting is starting to show signs of breaking up.
South Africa have this match by the scruff of the neck but that is not to say that England are without a realistic chance of saving a draw. We all remember the Wanderers Test in 1995 where Michael Atherton and Jack Russel survived the final day at 5 wickets down without losing a wicket the entire day. This is a somewhat different Test in that runs scored are just as handy as balls used up. In that innings the curious ‘keeper Jack Russel scored 29 runs from 235 deliveries. To have any chance of saving this match, England need to make South Africa bat again – indeed we may even have a brief and exciting run chase.
After looking like they were in with a chance of an enormous score England were bowled out for 385 runs not long after lunch on the second day. Having started the day at 267/3 they would have hoped for more but angry clouds meant an altogether different cricketing climate to the first day. The heavy overhead clouds assisted the hand-stitched Duke ball to sing for Steyn and co and good South African bowing was rewarded with early wickets.
Matt Prior scored a smart 60 runs as he batted with the tail but, his effort aside, the English batsmen offered little resistance as South Africa clawed their way back into this Test match. At 86/1 for one at stumps the visitors will feel that the match is very finely balanced.
One underestimates the impact of clouds on a cricket match and during the morning session England found it very tricky to score runs as the South African seamers bowled good lines and lengths and that extra bit of movement through the air troubled the batsmen outside the off stump. The first ten overs of the day brought 12 runs and three wickets as the Test’s complexion changed its hue. England won an excellent toss, were on track for a dominant 500-plus score and then made only a good score.
South Africa lost Alviro Petersen early as he was trapped plumb in front of middle stump on the back leg by James Anderson without troubling the scorers. After that initial setback the visitors went forth with caution as Graham Smith (37*, 118b, 4×4) and Hashim Amla (47*, 97b, 6×4) took 127 balls to score 50 runs. Once that milestone was achieved however, the partnership developed comfortably and once again the wicket looked an easy place for a batsman to ply his trade.
The English seamers bowled poor lines, straying too often to the pads, which is exactly where Smith and Amla find easy pickings. The sun shone brightly after a brief rain delay and the South Africans had their turn at making England field in vain as no further wicket fell before the close at 7.30pm – it is a real Test match where both teams teams get to have a turn at hardship.
Forgive the cliche but as ever, the third day of the Test tomorrow will prove decisive. It seems likely that South Africa will post a good score as well and despite the good weather forecasts, the draw is still a strong runner. I saw Anil Kumble make a ton here five years ago and the pitch is as easy paced now as it was then. Graeme Smith’s record in England is as good as anyone in history and he and Amla look well set and hungry for runs.
The sun’s absence today meant that the dry pitch did not dry up as much as it would have done on a clear day and tomorrow is expected to be cloudy also. Sunday and Monday look very sunny and we can expect the ball to spin aplenty then. England may have won a good toss but this pitch looks good for batting for a hundred overs yet.
I can’t wait for tomorrow – we have a real Test match on our hands. What a pity there are only three of them.
Months of anticipation ended as Andrew Strauss strode confidently to the crease after winning a good toss on a lovely English summer’s morning at the Oval today. Aside from the Ashes it is very difficult to remember a Test series as hyped up as this one and the millions tuned who tuned in to follow the game were rewarded with instant action as Strauss was out LBW (on review) to Morne Morkel with the fourth ball of the match.
But Alastair cook (114*, 283b, 11×4, 1×6) and Jonathan Trott (71, 162b, 9×4) weathered the storm and allayed any English fears that the series might start with anything worse than a minor stumble as they amassed 170 runs for the second wicket partnership and 81 runs for the third. 267/3 at stumps is an impressive first day and South Africa will have to go forward from here with their backs to the wall.
Cook’s century was his 20th, which is quite an effort considering at the same age (27) the man who has scored the most hundreds ever, Sachin Tendulkar had 24 centuries to his name. Tendulkar started playing Test cricket when he was 16 when Cook debuted aged 21. From the get go, Cook looked as if he was going to make a proper cricket score – the opener left well, played carefully and scored when he judged balls to be in his zones. The batsman’s mental fitness has increased from strength to strength over his career and his eight biggest scores have all come over the past three years. He only needs 20 or so runs to extend that stat to nine tomorrow and one wouldn’t be surprised if he compiled his third double century.
Kevin Pietersen (42, 72b, 4×4) has been in the news for the wrong reasons of late and was more aggressive than Jonathan Trott (71, 162b, 9×4) but that is indicative of the entirely different match situations when they arrived on the square. Trott stoically dug his side out of an unattractive start while KP looked to dominate the struggling South African attack. Both fell through lapses in concentration as Trott fished at a wide ball from Morkel that he would normally have left and KP was also caught behind as he fell to a short-ball plan that was delivered by Kallis but clearly devised by the team.
Test cricket is a tough game to play and South Africa’s bowlers began the series with a gruelling day in the field. AB de Villiers, behind the stumps for the first time as the designated Test ‘keeper will also be stiff tomorrow. It will be ice baths after play all-round and there are still seven wickets to take before they can put their feet up. Dale Steyn was a little short of his best, Vernon Philander started well and bowled in good areas but was picked off as the day went on and Morkel took two wickets but bowled too wide of the crease to ask enough questions. Spinners Imran Tahir and JP Duminy were negotiated without much trouble at all.
Despite it being about the wettest summer “since records began” the wicket was surprisingly dry and offered very little assistance to South Africa’s – usually dangerous – attack. No play was lost and the forecast is surprisingly good so for the duration of the match so, while the draw is the favourite at this stage, one can expect this deck to become less consistent and offer more inconsistent bounce and turn at the weekend.
England are likely to bat big and South Africa have the batsmen to match that effort before the pitch deteriorates but scoreboard pressure is a real factor, especially after two tough days in the field, and England have proved over the past few seasons that they are no duffers at cricket. South Africa haven’t lost an away series for six years (during which time they have lost only one at home) but their confidence in maintaining that record might have taken a bit of a dip today.