Ball One – Well, well, well. Just as some writers (like this one) were diving into the big book of cliches to hail an all-conquering England side, the South African bowlers suddenly live up to their reputations and start hooping it around. As many wickets fall in the first hour as fell in the whole of the previous day for less than a tenth of the runs. And it could have been a lot worse for England. More than anywhere else in the world, Test cricket in England is about squeezing the most from conditions overhead and underfoot. South Africa did not do that yesterday, but they are doing it – in trumps – today.
Ball Two – In the second hour of play, the swing becomes more predictable, though still challenging, and England’s batsmen start to assert themselves. Once again, Tim Bresnan is showing his value at Eight, blocking the good ones and hitting the bad ones. Until the lower-order batsman’s nemesis comes on – the leg-break bowler. So slow was the turn from Imran Tahir that Bresnan was through the stroke early and chopped on his stumps, the second to do so after Cook’s departure to the pace of Steyn. Fortunately, England have a second “Eight”, Stuart Broad, in at Nine. Runs from such bowlers who bat are crucial because they are so often in partnership with the last specialist batsman who should be scoring at a better rate. Consequently, 30 can often produce 80 for the team. Duncan Fletcher would approve.
Ball Three – Imran Tahir’s googly turns, but slowly on this track and appears easy to read from the hand. It’s still a decent weapon though, but needs supplementing with a bit of deceit and subterfuge. By all accounts, he’s a nice guy and that’s no bad thing in a dressing room, but it may not be the best personality for a man whose trade demands that he make opponents believe something is happening even if it isn’t.
Ball Four – Graeme Smith’s figures stand comparison with all but the very best in cricket history and, on the Saffers’ last tour, he played one of the all-time great innings to win the Edgbaston Test, which was to prove the difference between the sides. Quite how Smith has prospered so much with a stance and, especially, a grip that closes the face to such an extent, is hard to credit, but, as ever, it’s not how, it’s how many.
Ball Five – Hashim Amla was catapulted into Test cricket as an inexperienced batsman with a great eye and a lot of quirks. He struggled, was dropped, and then was recalled, since when he has been a solid, and occasionally spectacular performer for his country in all forms of the game. Unlike his captain, Amla’s approach became more orthodox, not less, as he settled into his game. Crucially, he was able to retain his eye and his lovely balance, while becoming much tighter at the crease. He is now a formidable foe.
Ball Six – 12 overs into the innings, straight after the rain break and with the ball wet, Strauss tosses it to Graeme Swann. That may well be to get at lefty Graeme Smith, but it’s also a show of faith in an off-spinner who is a “go to” bowler in any conditions. Not so long ago, England fans might only see their off-spinner in the first fifty overs delivering the one before the lunch.
You can tweet me @garynaylor999