Thursday, 14 January 2010

England shot out for 180 and South Africa survive the rain and floodlights without loss

ANDREW STRAUSS fell to the first ball at The Wanderers this morning and England were shot out for 180 on a disastrous opening day of the “must-draw” final Test in Johannesburg.

South Africa, needing a win to tie the series at 1-1 and retain the Basil D’Oliviera trophy, were 29-0 with openers Graeme Smith(12) and Ashwell Prince (15) surviving 12 overs, a 95-minute rain delay (pictured right) and a bonus late session under floodlights.

When the umpires finally took them off for bad light, Strauss was furious. It was the end of a very, very bad day at the office.

Strauss’s first diamond duck was quickly followed by the loss of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook as England found themselves 39-4 after 9.4 overs. South Africa’s opening pair, Morne Morkel (3-39) and the world’s top ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn (5-51) were almost unplayable in their opening barrage.

It was left to Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell to restore sanity – they added 76 for the fifth wicket before Collingwood departed for 47 and Bell followed for 35 soon after lunch.

And then the gormless procession resumed. Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom offered little resistance as England – Graeme Swann excepted - caved in. Yes, Sidebottom – a surprise choice to replace Graham Onions before play this morning. Onions, the legendary No11 bat the South Africans never managed to remove. Just another silly decision on a day of poor choices from England.

The most remarkable of the lot? Strauss deciding to bat when he’d won the toss. Did nobody tell him about 1999 when we were shot out for 122 on the opening day and lost by an innings?

There’s one reason this lot might do a tad better. Collingwood. Oh, for 11 Durham Determinators. Described by coach Andy Flower as “Our typical British Bulldog” he is carrying four separate injuries to his shoulder, back, hand and groin. But he celebrated the end of a fascinating first session by slapping Jacques Kallis for six over square leg and calmly walking off for lunch.

It couldn’t last. In the fifth over after lunch Collingwood, looking good for an heroic 50, turned a typical nurdle off his pads into a leading edge to JP Duminy. England were 115-5 and the Bulldog was gone for 47 off 61 balls, McLaren’s first Test victim.

Bell’s two-hour resistance ended when he was bowled by an absolute snorter from Steyn which nipped back and shattered his stumps.

Prior, who admitted earlier this week he was unhappy with his form in the city of his birth, was next. Steyn celebrated with abandon when he touched one to Boucher for 14 off 25 unconvincing balls.

Broad, once an England schools opening bat, produced a couple of nice shots before he went for 13, caught Morkel, bowled by an animated Jacques Kallis. No love lost there. Broad actually got a worse reception that Kevin Pietersen from the locals.

And Broad’s demise was typical of England today, a nothing shot to a nothing ball. While the South Africans are fired up and verbal, England’s batters appeared happy to wander in and out with no apparent fury.

Sidebottom did exactly that, Steyn’s fourth victim, caught behind for a duck off six balls. He waited all this time for the chance to bat in this series, worked so hard in the nets during the first three Tests. Then he nibbled at one outside off just when his country needed him to hang about a bit.

Graeme Swann, competing with Collingwood as England’s man of the series, got stuck in for a run-a-ball 27 before he became Steyn’s fifth victim and Boucher’s third. Innings closed but at least Swanny, the top wicket taker in the series, added 25 with Jimmy Anderson (6).

At 180 all out on a pitch being downgraded from “downright nasty” to “quite lively”, England are in serious trouble, but it could have been ever worse after the opening spell we witnessed this morning. An assault on the senses shared by a crowd of around 8,000 as the press box, packed with former Test stars, went into meltdown.

Steyn got things underway after Strauss – three-out-of-four with the coin on in this series - had won the toss. The England captain’s decision to bat is something he will have to live with for the rest of his career.

There was a hushed silence as Strauss turned the first delivery of the day straight into what the stadium commentator instantly described as “the magic hands of Hashim Amla” at short leg. Great catch, one handed to his right. Uproar.

England’s stunned Barmy Army, who had their traditional chorus of Jerusalem drowned out by the sound system at the “Bull Ring”, were immediately silenced. Strauss had become the 28th person dismissed on the first ball of a Test, a fate which befell the great Sunil Gavaskar three times. Last time this happened to England? Stan Worthington in Brisbane against the Australians in 1936.

The first over ended with England 3-1, nerves still jangling. Morkel’s first over from the other end was equally fiery. His first ball was edged by Trott for four. His second beat the bat completely. The sixth did for him, plumb LBW, England 7-2. A bizarre five-run, eight-ball innings of swishes and hopeful prods. What was Trott thinking?

Pietersen, on seven runs from 16 balls, did what he has been doing all tour. Made a rash decision just as he was beginning to get comfortable. He went for the big pull, didn’t quite make it and Wayne Parnell took a sharp catch at cover. England were 32-3. It was all so fast, the poor bloke, making his debut, even had a quick shy at the stumps after taking the catch.

Pietersen departed spitting and shaking his head. Now boasting a full beard and a rapidly diminishing Test average, the man from Pietermaritzburg looks an unhappy soul.

Alastair Cook, somehow keeping his sanity at the other end as three South Africa-born English batsmen perished, was next, Morkel’s third victim. His LBW decision went for review with the controversial TV umpire Daryl Harper and though it looked like a no-ball, the decision stood. England coach Andy Flower went to the match referee to complain, but by then it was too late. Far too late. Cook was gone for 21 off 31 balls and England were past shock and into intensive care at 39-4.

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