After a disastrous start, England recovered well to dominate the opening day of the most decisive series in cricket history.
Since the start of England’s triumphant Ashes tour nearly two years ago, Alastair Cook has scored more Test runs than anyone else in the world. Quite a lot more, in fact; his total of 2110 (at 72.75!) is 500 ahead of his nearest competitor. Today, he watched Andrew Strauss fall before he’d even faced a ball himself and then rose superbly to the challenge of anchoring the England innings. It was a chanceless knock, painstakingly compiled against a South African attack who seemed to believe the stumps were a good three feet away from where they actually were. We assume hallucinogenics were involved. Test match hundred number 20 has taken a while – the last time he reached three figures was his 294 at Edgbaston last summer – but it came at a vital time. England can be exceptionally dangerous when their top three sets a base from which their aggressive lower order can attack. Cook, along with Jonathan Trott, has set a base…
After all the anticipation came the rain, and after the rain came a thundering start from Morne Morkel. In Brisbane, at the start of a much-hyped series, captain Strauss lasted three balls. Today he lasted four. Morkel has troubled both openers in the past – and is renowned as an excellent bowler to left-handers in general – and he was in Strauss’s head before he even bowled a ball. Taking an un-natural off stump guard, Strauss promptly walked across his stumps and was trapped stone dead LBW in the first over of the match. Despite an initial reprieve when, confusing himself for Daryl Harper and getting in a horrible muddle, umpire Steve Davis gave him a stay of execution, Hawkeye promptly lopped his head off anyway. As starts go, it wasn’t the best, but South Africa bowled poorly after that and completely failed to take the initiative.
England are well-set, on a flat wicket, against a undercooked bowling attack with plenty of time to bat. So they will, no doubt, collapse in a heap first thing in the morning. If they can avoid that sort of hiccup, there is a big score in the offing and it is a big score they will need. This is a pitch out of the traditional Adelaide Oval mould (before teams started rolling up and taking three wickets before the captains had even tossed up) where the first three days are all about piling up the runs before the game speeds up in the final two. South Africa, for their part, must get the batsmen playing more; both for the sake of wicket-taking and for the poor fans who’ve had to sit through dour leave after dour leave on the first day. Tomorrow the series really begins in earnest, you heard it here first.