After a testing first day out in the field, South Africa’s bowlers found their missing fire and fought back on day two at The Oval. ANT SIMS reports from London.
The South African bowlers started off day two at The Oval with a reignited fire and a new hostility, pulling themselves out of the gutter to claw their way back into the game. Dale Steyn found the venom which Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott so mercilessly sucked out of him on Thursday, and spat it right back at England in the morning session.
Steyn struck early on to remove Cook, putting the peg in the ground for what was a much better bowling performance from South Africa. Matthew Prior was the only other England batsman who managed a significant score, making 60 off 90 as England crawled its way to 385 all out.
“Steyn is a world-class performer, which is great because that’s the kind of players you want to test yourself against,” said Prior.
It was Morne Morkel who eventually got the breakthrough to dismiss Prior and, despite his inconsistency, Morkel finished with four wickets in the innings. The lanky bowler acknowledged the part Steyn’s early vigour had played in reigniting the spark South Africa seemed to be lacking on day one.
“I think the aggressive start this morning was needed. We knew we needed to cash in on that first hour and all credit should go to Vernon (Philander) and Steyn,” said Morkel.
His wickets were the key to South Africa’s fight, and couldn’t have come at a more crucial time, as rain interrupted play later in the day. While the Proteas owed many of the wickets to utterly incompetent shot selection from England, the bowlers held their lines and lengths much better than on day one and created pressure by doing so.
“Steyn is number one in the world and will deliver something special at any given time. It fires me up to bowl first change or from the other end when he’s bowling like that,” Morkel said.
There was plenty of nip in the air to help the bowlers on Friday, something which was absent on day one. While the Test has had its periods of lulls, it’s been a good, tough contest between bat and ball and players have all had to work hard to earn their keep.
“The outfield was a bit damp on Thursday so it made it a bit tough, and the English batsmen played really well, too. I think that’s just the way the series is going to go, it’s always going to be a tough challenge between bat and ball,” said Morkel.
South Africa stepped out to bat under gloomy skies, ideal conditions for James Anderson to make early inroads, but after Alviro Petersen was trapped leg-before early on, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla combined to guide the visitors to safety as they finished on 86-1 at the close of play. Smith looked solid in his defence when walking across the stumps to face Graeme Swann, and barring one delivery which nearly caught the South African skipper leg before, he survived for a concentrated effort of 37* (118) seeing the final overs through with Amla 47* (97) at the other end.
As has been the case over the last two days, a lot will depend on how the first session of play goes, and Prior believes England is still in a good position and will want to capitalise early on day three.
“If we come in tomorrow morning and get one or two quick wickets, we’ll be right back in the game; that’s what we’ll be looking to do tomorrow. We’re still in a good position and a lot will depend on that first session,” said Prior.
The Reverse Swing – The Oval, Day 2
From Stale Dale to Stunning Steyn
Whether he is bowling at 145km/h or not, when Steyn is fired up, watching him is something special. He is fierce, flawless and looks like he’ll stop and pull off his skin to reveal a demon from the seventh circle of hell at any time. That’s the Steyn which is the number one bowler in the world, and flashes of that player showed on Friday. It’s a good sign for South Africa; they need their spearhead to reach his optimum performance capacity, and soon.
Ravi Bopara the periscope
Ravi Bopara is always under scrutiny. England’s number six batting spot is a tender talking point and Bopara isn’t doing himself any favours. The shot which got him out was utterly unfathomable and he was sent packing for a duck on what could very well be his last comeback. Bopara last scored a hundred when he played for England in May 2009, before he was dropped and made a brief return in August last year. He has now been given another chance as England struggles to find somebody to slot in at six, but his indecision on how to play a very short ball from Steyn should really be the final nail in his creaking coffin. Nobody knows what exactly what Bopara was doing, probably not even Bopara himself.
Amla edges Bopara through the slips
With fading light and large shadows starting to loom, South Africa had just a few overs left to survive until the close of play; both Amla and Smith had looked solid. Bopara was then brought into the attack and an edge went flying past Andrew Strauss and all the way to the fence for four. It was very much a heart-in-throat moment for the South African camp, and is a vital miss for England. DM
South Africa's captain Graeme Smith hits out during the first cricket test match against England at the Oval cricket ground in London July 20, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown