South Africa struck an early and telling blow in the three Test series with an emphatic innings and 12 runs victory over England in the first Test at the Oval.
Given England’s position going into Day Two of the Test, the result is a huge disappointment to the hosts. England reached 251 before the third wicket fell in the first innings, that of Kevin Pietersen.
To then be dismissed for 385 on a flat track suggests that some of the batting demons from the winter in the UAE and Sri Lanka haven’t yet left the side.
Of the middle order only a sprightly 60 from Matt Prior kept England ticking along. The useful tail end contributions from 2009-10 were nowhere to be seen as the Proteas took wickets at regular intervals, Morne Morkel finishing with 4/72 having removed Andrew Strauss with the Test’s second delivery.
The favourable batting conditions were emphasised in some style by Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jaques Kallis. Alviro Petersen must have been feeling rotten on Day Three as he watched on longingly from the Oval balcony, nursing a duck.
His place is surely the most likely to be occupied by Thami Tsolekile, who will assume the gloves from AB de Villiers at Headingley. It would be harsh to drop Jacques Rudolph, who was the only player in the first Test without any active participation other than fielding duties – he wasn’t even involved in any of the 20 English wickets that fell.
The sheer bloody mindedness of the South African batting was hugely impressive. Captain Smith marked his 100th Test appearance with a masterful century, recovering South Africa from 1/1 when Petersen fell to a James Anderson in swinger to register 131 runs.
It was Amla, however, who stole the show with a wonderful 311*. It was the culmination of a career that has, thus far, strived for self improvement. It was his 15th Test ton and in the process he became South Africa’s first triple centurion.
England’s batting line up would do well to take a leaf out of Amla’s book of concentration. He gave nothing away and doggedly chipped away at, first England’s total, and secondly England’s morale, in tandem with Smith (131) and Kallis (182*).
England’s second innings never really got going with the top four succumbing on the fourth evening, Strauss to a ludicrous sweep against Imran Tahir. On Day Five it was the Dale Steyn show, as the world’s number one ranked bowler finished off with 5/56 to reduce the world’s number one ranked side to rubble.
Andrew Flower will have to step up yet again to instil in this England side the belief that it can win at Headingley. England got battered on all fronts, so he will earn his crust this week.
This is the first time in a long time that England’s bowlers failed, with only Anderson and Tim Bresnan taking wickets in the Test. It shouldn’t be too hard to convince them that this was but a blip.
For the batsmen, however, the task is far harder. It was the batsmen that lost the series against Pakistan and the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle. Is it now for them to save the series, and the number one ranking, against South Africa?
We all know they’re capable, but do they themselves believe they are? The whole side needs to take a giant leap forward in Leeds. This is the truest test of side’s ranking: recover the series and England deserves the number one ranking. Slip to a series defeat and South Africa will rightly take home the plaudits and the top ranking.
By Miles ReucroftTweet
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