GRAEME SWANN take a bow. Rarely in the history of spin bowling have so many overs been bowled in such heat for so few. And he ended with his third five-wicket haul in Test cricket. Ignore the fact England have lost Alastair Cook early in their reply, Swann is the man.
Not only did his 45 miserly overs in extreme temperatures keep England in touch with South Africa, who were all out for 418 when many were predicting a score of 500-plus. His 5-110 also ended the Bore War, which broke out around tea-time when the South African tail-enders decided to strangle the first Test.
In Perth this morning, Chris Gayle hit the fifth fastest hundred in Test history with a 70-ball whirlwind against Australia. In direct contrast, Paul Harris (38 off 89 balls) and debutant Friedel de Wet (20 off 67) barely produced an attacking shot in a ninth wicket partnership worth 37 off nearly 17 overs in a bizarre attempt to put a crowd of 9,000 to sleep all at once. In the 10 overs before tea, they scored 11. Ho-hum.
Oh for a Gayle force to blow here. But when England came in to bat, such feats looked a very distant prospect. Makhaya Ntini, winning his 100th cap, came roaring in and had Cook dropped in the first over, right through the hands of AB De Villiers at third slip.
De Wet was less boring with the ball than the bat. His first delivery in Test cricket was a massive leg side wide in the Steve Harmison style. His second beat Andrew Strauss all ends up.
But after that dodgy start, England’s opening pair began to settle until the sixth over when, with England on 25, Cook got the slightest of edges to De Wet and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, out for a painful 49 in earlier the day, snaffled the catch. No pesky review required.
Cook had been looking good until that point, cracking three fours and scoring 15 off 17 balls while Strauss stayed in his shell. With a minimum of 20 overs remaining, England are 26-1 - any further losses would seriously take the gloss of England’s efforts in the field.
Jimmy Anderson may have turned the course of this game when he had the heroic Jacques Kallis, who looked like he could bat forever despite a rib injury, caught at second slip by Paul Collingwood for 120 early in the day.
But Swann’s effort was quite incredible and Onions, 3-86, bowling with a calf strain, deserves a mention too. Paul Collingwood picked up a record-equalling four catches - only Marcus Trescothick has taken as many in the outfield in an England innings – against mighty Zimbabwe in 2003.