July 20, 2012
The much awaited first day of undoubtedly the most anticipated Test series in recent memory belonged completely to the home team. England finished the day at 267 for the loss of three wickets with Alastair Cook unbeaten on a gutsy and determined 114 and Ian Bell on 10.
England won the toss and elected to bat inspite of cloudy overhead conditions. There was a 15 minute delay at the start after a brief shower but soon after the home side had their hearts pounding when they lost their captain, Andrew Strauss for a duck in the very first over of the match lbw to Morne Morkel – the original on-field decision overturned courtesy the DRS. Morkel had become a bit of a nemesis for Strauss having dismissed the southpaw 6 times in 8 test matches and he added to the tally with the 4th ball today. Credit must be given to the South African captain, Graeme Smith for encouraging Morkel to start the proceedings from around the wicket to Strauss, creating an uncomfortable angle for the English captain.
Cook and Jonathan Trott then resurrected the innings mixing caution with aggression. A highlight of the first session was Cook’s six off Steyn – he pulled a shortish ball over widish long-leg deep into the stands for only his sixth six in Test Cricket!
England continued to be positive and dominant in the afternoon session with Cook getting to his 30th international Test fifty and the partnership crossing the 100 mark. Trott soon followed with a gritty half century.
The pitch slowed down and with the sun shining brightly, the English pair continued to grind the opposition bowlers as South Africa went wicketless in the 2nd session.
Morkel broke the 170 run partnership for the 2nd wicket with Trott knicking a well pitched up delivery which slightly straightened to AB de Villiers.
The obvious excitement at Kevin Pietersen’s arrival at the crease created a buzz around the ground. He began cautiously but slowly his confidence grew and soon he and Cook had put up a 50 run stand at more than 3.7 runs per over. Pietersen accelerated quickly
and the pair put up an impressive 81 runs for the 3rd wicket. Kallis returned and got Pietersen against the run of play – the flamboyant batsman attempting a pull only to glove a short pitch bouncer down the leg-side to keeper de Villiers.
Smith took the new ball soon after it became available but the English batsmen were solid and showed good technique and easily negotiated the challenge.
Cook showed great character and discipline and built his innings beautifully – his repertoire included shots all over the wicket – fluent on-drives, pulls, hooks, square-cuts and cover drives combined with copy book technique and composure.
Though Morkel took the first two wickets, he and all the other South African bowlers lacked the firepower and were guilty of not bending their backs to extract something extra from a typical and true batsmen-friendly Oval wicket.
England would be hoping to cash in on the start tomorrow and bat only once in this Test match while South Africa will have to pull their socks up and return more determined. After all the rain we have had in England over the past few months and all the emotional drama and heartbreak first with England’s exit from the Euro and then Andy Murray’s teary loss at Wimbledon, it might still be an English Summer!