The Oval, day two: SA 86-1

Yesterday belonged to England, but due to the carelessness of Trott and Pietersen not by as much as may have been the case. That is something that looms large now as South Africa took today by about as much as England took yesterday. I said then that South Africa would need to use the more favourable conditions in the first hour to get one of Cook or Bell out and then get into Prior et al before England had a good platform. That is exactly what they did and actually a bit more. Cook went first, followed by Bopara for a duck and then Bell was bowled by a bail-trimmer all in under an hour. Even with some good fight by the lower order, England only got to 385. Most of the credit should go to South Africa who bowled much better than they did yesterday. They got more help from the almost perfect conditions for swing and England did throw a couple of wickets away, but it was most of all an excellent performance and 385 is probably lower than they dared hope last night.

England actually got a bit unfortunate with the weather when they bowled. Broad was getting some good movement and Anderson was swinging the ball around corners. The delivery from the latter to trap Alviro Petersen leg before was all but unplayable and both Smith and Amla had some close calls. England had eleven overs of that before tea and looked like they could really make some inroads after the interval, but the rain which had been skirting the Oval all day finally hit and fell for almost two hours. The ball had stopped swinging by the time they got back out and there was a real lack of intensity from England as well. Smith and Amla were relatively carefree; their only worries being a ball from Swann which spun narrowly past Smith’s off stump and a streaky edge from Amla (off Bopara of all bowlers). The overnight score does not yet put South Africa on top, but leaves the match well set up for tomorrow.

South Africa are still far from a safe position. England might have wanted 450 or more, but that was to put the match away. Three hundred and eighty-five is still very competitive. With the pitch already turning, South Africa will want a fairly large first innings lead before they chase anything. I expect they will probably view 450 as almost a minimum. Certainly England will be happy if they can keep South Africa close to parity. Whilst Smith and Amla have recovered well, it would have been a disaster for South Africa if one of them had gone cheaply and England still have a chance to dismiss one or both of them for less than fifty. With South Africa carrying a few weaker batsmen, they really need big totals from their star players and probably need a hundred from at least one of these two. England are not in as good a position as they were, but they still definitely have a chance to take control of the match.

Tomorrow looks like it will be mostly about whether England can get the ball to move. South Africa never looked comfortable when Anderson was swinging it in the afternoon (few would with the way it was moving) and Swann got enough turn in the evening to cause a couple of problems, though not many. The weather forecast is for very batting friendly conditions tomorrow, though that does not mean a whole lot. If it is true though, England will probably rely on Swann getting turn and Bresnan getting reverse swing until the second new ball arrives in the late afternoon. England have done a very good job in recent years of plugging away relentlessly until the batsmen make an error and I expect tomorrow will be a similar sort of day, though they will probably find it easier once they break the Smith/Amla partnership. I expect South Africa will bat through the day and be close to parity by stumps. The match may hinge on how many wickets England can take before then.

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