Despite playing dreadful cricket for most of the day, England managed to end it with the Test quite evenly poised.
While German cyclists were claiming a gold medal despite being, at best, the third quickest team in the competition, Alviro Petersen top scored with an unbeaten century despite being dropped, given LBW and constantly edging past or through the slips. He seems to us a Marcus North type figure, who England would back themselves against in any sort of pressurised situation, but he was the one who stepped up for South Africa and ensured they held the upper hand for most of the day.
Most of this country’s knowledge of Petersen comes from county cricket, where he has more LBW dismissals than we’ve had gin and tonics, so today was something of a learning curve for everyone. The main lesson being to not bowl short filth at him under any circumstances. Against tough bowling from Jimmy Anderson early on and Stuart Broad towards the end he looked in trouble, but the way he cashed in as England slipped back into the Australian mode they so perfected at the Oval may yet prove to be the critical innings of the match.
Having left Graeme Swann out of the side and put South Africa in, England opened up with a man deep on the leg-side and just two slips in place. As plans go, it was straight out of the ‘overtake the cyclist in front too early’ handbook and epitomised a terrible start. Petersen was gifted a life on 25 as Alastair Cook, only in the slips because of Swann’s absence, hurled an absolute sitter to the floor before Steve Finn had Graeme Smith caught behind off a dead ball. The seemingly random nature of the call was irksome, but in hindsight it’s difficult to argue with the decision; Finn was warned and it’s a problem which clearly should have been addressed by now. England have no one else to blame.
That, coming so soon after Cook’s drop, seemed to affect them quite badly; it wasn’t until Smith rather gifted his wicket in the afternoon that they sparked back into life. That they fought back into a position close to parity is admirable, though there still seems to be a number of chinks in the armour.
Assuming the weather holds, Friday morning is probably going to be crucial. England need to come out all guns blazing a la South Africa at the Oval, rather than meekly wander out with a spud gun as they themselves did in the first Test. Keep the tourists below 400 and they are in the game, if they let them get away and above that the number one ranking might be getting ready to dash off into the sunset with their opponents.