England hardly missed Kevin Pietersen’s bowling at all as they waltzed through the South African top order.
While Steve Finn justified his selection by using his particular brand of sorcery to lure Alviro Petersen, Jacques Kallis and the third umpire into his web of doom and Jimmy Anderson introduced the rest of the opposition batsmen to a world of pain, the best English bowling performance was to be found quite some way from Lord’s today. Tim Bresnan, unceremoniously dropped after the management fed him to a particularly ravenous press corps earlier in the week, and Graham Onions were both released back to their counties this morning. The former arrived at Headingley just in time to get out for one, while Onions reacted to his latest international slap in the face by unleashing seven shades of hell on title-challenging Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. He took nine wickets and was only denied all ten by deciding he wanted to run Luke Fletcher out instead. If anything, that made his statement bolder still. Either England finally give him a proper chance soon or there are going to be a helluva lot of Championship batsmen in therapy this winter.
The main talking point of the first day surrounds the Kallis dismissal before lunch, when Rod Tucker highlighted the folly of installing a free bar in the third umpire’s room. Through a combination of laziness and general boredom at everyone constantly making the same arguments about everything, we don’t have much to add. Suffice to say, we support the review system but have long been suspicious as to its accuracy. It has a long way to go yet and days like today don’t help.
Other than that our enjoyment was borne out of a more general theme; despite all the pre-series talk of how high-quality this contest would be, we can’t shake the feeling that the whole thing has actually been of spectacularly low quality for the most part. England took wickets without bowling especially well because batsmen continued to gift wrap their dismissals but really failed to grasp the initiative at all. As with at Headingley, it makes for a close game but not an exciting one. As well as the tourists played at the Oval, had England played anything bordering on sensible cricket they would not have lost on such a benign pitch and the series would be level. Think 2009, think West Indies and think Jamaica.
There seems to be a bit more life in this pitch than the previous two, so something around 300 may well be a decent score. We have often said in these reviews how ‘England must clean up the tail tomorrow’ and this is another one of these times. Already they have given up too many runs to the lower order, to the extent that were they to slip into Tino Best mode for an hour all the hard work of the first morning will have gone to waste. After that there is serious pressure on the top three, for obvious reasons, and they will need a good day to put the Pietersen issue to bed for while longer. We’d all like an Andrew Strauss ton, not least because he has been a great servant to English cricket and it’s a shame his landmark Test has been so overshadowed. We’re with you tomorrow, skipper.