As expected, the opening Test between South Africa and England has produced some highly competitive cricket, with no team having the upper hand after two days. The first signs of the series which would officially decide which is the best Test team in the world are highly encouraging. The opening day saw England dominate, with Alastair Cook registering yet another ton in the opening Test of the series. However, the South Africans fought back equally well on day two, with the bowling striking to keep the hosts under 400. Their batsmen then ensuredthatthe bowlers’ good work wasn’t undone.
The opening day belonged to the left-handed Cook for sure. He was in sublime form during his century, and reasserted that he is among the best opening batsmen in world cricket. Thanks to Cook’s knock, England could tide over the early loss of Andrew Strauss and rebuild their innings. Cook got some good support from Jonathan Trott as well. The England number three has been a real plus for England even since he made his debut, and his innings on the opening day of The Oval Test reiterated his standing in the team.
At the end of the opening day, England were in command for sure. However, as if to prove why they are in contention for the number on spot, the South Africans fought back on the second day. Dale Steyn got Cook early on, and from there the game shifted South Africa’s way. The middle and lower order collapsed without putting up much of a resistance. This game was critical for Ravi Bopara, since he was making his comeback to Tests followinga few injury setbacks. But, an inspired Steyn ensured that his knock lasted only six balls.
More than poor batting, it was some excellent bowling by the South Africans that brought the visitors back into the game. Jacques Kallis picked up crucial wickets while Imran Tahir and Vernon Philander combined to make sure that the lower order did not put up any kind of resistance. Only wicket-keeper Matt Prior, with his half-century, stood firm. Getting the lower order batsmen was key for the South Africans since the likes of Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann have in the past combined in crucial partnerships, which have turned games upside down.
Even after South Africa got rid of the England batting line-up, it was important that their batsmen built on the gains. And, in spite of Alviro Petersen falling for a duck, just like Andrew Strauss did on the opening day, Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla combined in another of those steadying partnerships, which meant both teams will go into day three on an even keel. Which way the Test goes from here will be determined by how well South Africa bat in their first innings. As for England, they would be hoping for a fightback, akin to what the Proteas made onday two.
--By A Cricket Analyst