ENGLAND let South Africa off the hook after a sensational start to the First Test at a sizzling Centurion today – and may have to make do with just three front line bowlers tomorrow, with another cloudless African sky in prospect.
Durham’s Graeme Onions, England’s best bowler in the morning session, is struggling with a calf strain which the management have just said “will need intensive treatment”. He went off for an hour and was limping when he returned to the field.
England chose to go with just four specialist bowlers on a blistering hot day and Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann – aided by part-timers Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott - were wilting by the final session as South Africa gradually turned the game around to reach 220-4 with 13 overs to come before the close.
Heroic Jacques Kallis (84 not out including a huge six off Graeme Swann) shrugged off his rib injury with JP Duminy (27 not out) in support but it was Kallis and AB De Villiers (32) who led the initial recovery with a backs-to-the-wall fourth-wicket partnership worth 66 runs off 20 overs.
Both survived confident appeals to the new-fangled “decision review” system – Kallis for an apparently plum LBW and De Villiers a cast-iron caught behind - leaving England with no reviews to call on tomorrow. The unseen television umpire, India’s Amiesh Saheba, also reprieved South African batsman Ashwell Prince when he was given out LBW by Aussie umpire Steve Davis.
It all started so well for England when South African captain Graeme Smith, usually so patient, opted to chase Stuart Broad down the leg side, got a touch to one that bounced, and Matt Prior took a lovely diving catch to provide the first wicket of the series after just nine balls.
The South Africans were wearing black armbands as a tribute to Smith’s grandfather who died over the weekend, which might go some way to explaining his uncharacteristic loss of concentration this morning.
As a furious Smith ducked out, Broad continued to get bounce but the South Africans battled their way through the first hour with Hashim Amla and Prince surviving numerous oohs and ahs from the English slip cordon.
When Durham’s Graeme Onions came on to bowl his first balls in anger for some time on this tour, he had Amla in trouble with two huge lbw shouts but captain Andrew Strauss declined the opportunity to go to a review.
Onions thought he’d finally struck in the 19th over when Australian umpire Steve Davis responded to a third, huge appeal – this time for the wicket of Prince on 19. But despite the fickle finger being raised, the new-fangled review system was called into operation and once more, showed the ball was going marginally over the top and Prince was reprieved.
Onions – the pick of England’s bowlers with his late out-swing – finally got his reward in the 21st over of the day, with Amla’s attempted drive producing an edge to the diving Paul Collingwood in the slips. The man with the mighty beard was gone for a hairy 19 off 67 balls and South Africa were 51-2 with all-rounder Kallis, who is unlikely to bowl in this Test due to his rib problem, striding to the crease. The papers have been full of anxiety over his fitness here, and we soon found out why.
Spinner Graeme Swann produced the third wicket with his second ball after coming on in the 35th over. He got Prince to turn one low to a grateful Collingwood and was gone for 45 off 94 balls and South Africa were 93-3. Kallis responded in Swann’s next over, hitting the livewire Nottinghamshire tweaker for a huge six and a four.
The review system and invisible telly umpire Saheba became the talking point as first Kallis was given not out to a very good shout from Anderson on 35 – it seemed to fulfil all the criteria but may just have got an inside edge – then De Villiers appeared to be snaffled behind by Prior off Swann but though the replay suggested there had been an edge, the crowd roared their approval at the not out verdict.
The review system does not use the “hot spot” technology which shows if the ball has hit the bat, and Saheba may have been confused by Prior whipping the bails off after taking the catch. But England were convinced they had got their man – instead captain Strauss, so cautious in the early session, was left with no reviews left to take.
A frustrated Swann finally got one to turn sharply on De Villiers, who was caught by Cook at short leg for 32. But by then Smith’s early dismissal and the last-minute injury to Dale Steyn, currently No1 in the world Test rankings, were history. Day one to South Africa with a long, hot day two to come.And you have to ask: Was Strauss right to bowl when he won the toss on the hottest day of the tour so far after opting not to pick a fifth bowler? Smith said it: “I would have had a bat.”