South Africa fought back before England fought back and then South Africa fought back again to leave the Test in the balance on a day of fightbacks at the Oval.
After a lacklustre first day, South Africa came out all guns blazing on the second morning and tore into the English middle order. While the whole attack improved on Thursday’s performance, it was Dale Steyn who set the tone with a fast, aggressive opening spell in which he claimed the crucial wicket of Alastair Cook. The tourists needed early wickets, and Steyn provided them; Cook chopping on before Ravi Bopara played one of the worst shots ever to grace the international stage in falling soon afterwards. It wasn’t just the wickets – England could barely hit the ball off the square in the first hour. Morne Morkel may have ended up with the best figures, but it was Steyn, along with Vernon Philander and Jacques Kallis, who dragged South Africa back into the game.
Ravi Bopara was finally beginning to win over a small section of the cricket watching fraternity. And then he went and spoiled it all by doing something stupid like edging a hook to the keeper for nought. It wasn’t just any hook, it was a ridiculous half-hook, a nothing shot just when England needed him to have his sensible head on. No one has ever doubted Bopara’s talent, few people doubt his technique, but almost everyone doubts his temperament. Today he gave his detractors yet more ammunition, gift-wrapped with a pretty pink bow on top. It was lazy, it was dozy, it typified the very reputation he has been desperately trying to shed.
We’d also like to give an honourable mention to England’s hilariously defensive tactics in the evening. Graeme Swann operated with a deep point, a fielder to whom the ball didn’t go anywhere near all innings. England are 300 runs ahead, why are they on the defensive already?
England need to get at the middle order as early as possible if they are to put themselves in a position to win the game. South Africa need to continue on as they are and get as close to parity as they can. We’re due a heatwave and the pitch is still pretty flat, so the tourists must be better bet to achieve their aim. We’re a website of simple needs, but we’re begging the big man upstairs for a day where we don’t have to watch Graeme Smith bat for long. One afternoon is enough for anyone.