Monday, 4 January 2010

Cook provides the vital ingredient, Bell left with a ding-dong battle

ALASTAIR COOK proved his match-changing century in Durban was no flash in the pan as he produced another unflashy but vital 65 for England in Cape Town today.

The Essex opener kept his head on an incredible morning when the sound of wickets falling echoed constantly off the dramatic cliffs of neighbouring Table Mountain. With England 1-0 up in the four-match series, the second Test is now back in the balance as we approach the end of a sizzling day two with day three threatening temperatures of over 40 degrees.

Cook, generally regarded as a future England captain, survived the loss of current leader Andrew Strauss, the fiddling Jonathan Trott and the reckless Kevin Pietersen before losing a fourth partner in Paul Collingwood with the score a wobbly 73-4.

But Cookie didn’t crumble and when he was joined by Ian Bell, another centurion in Durban, the South African attack hit the wall. Cook needed 14 balls before he scored his first runs – a four off Morne Morkel – and he produced his second scoring shot off his 37th ball. Hardly sparkling stuff.

But they survived a torrid session before tea to frustrate the South Africans, who were skittled for 291 this morning. Cook was finally out – Morkel’s third victim – caught by Ashwell Prince off a weak pull shot after 136 balls and nearly four hours of resistance.

Bell (38), who had added 60 off 26 overs with Cook for the fifth wicket, was left to lead the resistance with wicketkeeper Matt Prior (6) at 133-5 and they had taken the score on to 154-5 without further loss midway through the final session.

But at least they had returned this Test to some sort of sanity. At the start of day two, South Africa lost four wickets in the first 17 balls for 12 runs to slump from 279-6 to 291 all out. Incredible. If all Tests went the way of this morning’s first four overs we’d see all four innings completed by lunch-time on day one with just over 100 runs on the board.

But Jimmy Anderson’s five wicket haul was soon forgotten as captain Strauss fell first over to Morkel for two. Trott stayed for 36 balls before he was bowled by Dale Steyn – the world’s top ranked bowler who doesn’t even open for South Africa any more – for 20.

The eternally disappointing Pietersen lasted just two balls before Steyn completed a neat caught-and-bowled duck. And when Morkel finally got rid of Collingwood, lbw, for 19 off 44 balls, England were in deep trouble at 73-4.

Cook showed them how to do it, refusing to nibble outside the off-stump and relying largely on the odd flick around the corner to add to his tally.

Just twice in 136 balls he actually played with any force on the off-side, and he had to wait until the arrival of non-spinning Paul Harris to slap two fours and raise the tempo with Bell often becalmed at the other end.

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