Match evenly poised as South Africa take lead
by Jinu Sabastian

Ground:Centurion Park, Centurion
Scorecard:South Africa v England
Player:PL Harris, GP Swann, PD Collingwood
Event:England in South Africa 2009/10

DateLine: 18th December 2009


A Test series that had good amount of hype surrounding it was living up to the expectations as the day swung to and fro relentlessly. Both the teams continued to battle hard for dominance and when the day's play ended it was still not certain as to who claimed the day's honours.


The day did not start promisingly for England as Strauss and Trott did not find runs easy to come. The South African bowlers, Ntini and Morkel, stuck to a good line and length as the duo were persistent with their line of attack and soon with the occasional ball keeping really low; literally rolling after pitching the batsmen appeared fidgety in the crease. Strauss (46) continued with his dubious reputation of not adding much to his overnight score as the skipper was cleaned up by Ntini with a one that scooted through at shin height and disturbed the furniture behind the batsmen. Trott was joined at the crease by Pietersen and as expected he was treated by the now familiar boos. He got off the mark with a thumping cover-drive but that was the only aggressive shot he played in the morning as the South African bowlers tied up the two batsmen at the crease.


The ball repeatedly kept low forcing both the batsmen to make exaggerated movements at the crease to counter it. Pietersen especially moved across a long way and stood well out of the crease to force the South African bowlers to bowl outside the off stump. This forced Smith to go for his under-rated left arm spinner Paul Harris who was upto the challenge. What then followed was an excellent passage of play that could be compared to a game of chess. With the pitch keeping low and with Harris purchasing some spin of the wicket pinned Trott and Pietersen stroke less. Harris and de Wet bowled well in tandem as the English duo in the middle suffocated.


Pietersen especially is one who likes to get on with the scoring but the pitch did not suit his style of scoring as he struggled for timing. Trott meanwhile went into a shell as the duo could not find any answers to the long periods where no run was scored. Finally the pressure told on Trott (28) who danced down the track to hit Harris over the infield but missed it completely and got cleaned up. Trott played 117 balls for his 28 of which 98 balls were dot balls. Pietersen broke the shackles with a huge six over midwicket of a full toss from Harris and just when he was finding his feet he played one shot too many. Morkel bowled a probing line and length and finally Pietersen (40) couldn't rein in himself, went for an expansive drive and played on. Paul Collingwood, England's official crisis man, went about his usual job of playing a fighting innings that he is now famous for.


Collingwood was prepared to wait for the bad balls and treated each ball on its merit. More importantly he was prepared to rotate the strike at every possible opportunity but he was not helped by an immobile Bell at the other end. Bell struggle to get the ball off the square and finally an erroneous judgment from the batsman caused his downfall. Bell on 5 played for a non-existent spin from Harris and shouldered his arms. But to the horror of the batsman, the English dressing room and the English supporters the ball refused to turn, went on with the arm and hit the middle stump leaving a disgusted Bell crouching low on his bat handle with a thought, 'What have I done?'. Matt Prior who played some excellent counter-attacking cameos during the Ashes 2009 was tied down by Harris before he tried to break free by sweeping the left arm spinner only to be caught at deep square leg for a depressing 4.


Collingwood got to his fifty in 87 balls but the acknowledgment had barely finished when of the next ball Harris got one to spin viciously to get the outside edge where Kallis at slip made no mistake. Broad and Swann set about trying to salvage the English innings but Duminy trapped Broad (17) leg before to reduce England to 242 for 8. The English dressing with Broad in particular was not pleased with what happened in the middle as the South African side had delayed in taking the referral. The hosts took the referral only when Duminy was at the top of his bowling mark waiting to ball the next ball. But what it did was it made Swann to go on the offensive. Smith took the new ball when it was available as he believed that his faster men will be well equipped to finish of the English innings he was proved wrong.


Swann had during the Ashes 2009 showed that he enjoys a good fight and he thrives on pressure situations which bring out the best in him. The off-spinner threw his bat around in gay abandon and the South African who were thinking that the English batting will be over soon were in for a rude shock. Ntini and Morkel bled runs and after just seven overs Smith went back to Harris and de Wet as he needed some control over the proceedings. As long as Swann batted he began to grow in confidence and even brought out his version of switch-hit of Harris. Swann brought up his fifty of 47 balls and soon he was the top-scorer for England. The pair brought up the hundred run partnership in 19.2 overs as Swann played a beautiful flick through midwicket. As the partnership progressed Anderson began to cramp up and soon was dismissed 29 when he chipped lamely to Morkel at mid-off where the tall bowler took a well-judged catch diving forward. Swann, on 85, who was well in sight of a maiden century swept at a Harris delivery only to find Smith at square leg who took an easy catch to terminate the English innings. Paul Harris in the process claimed his third five-wicket haul in his Test career as he finished with figures 5 for 123.


With a lead of 62 runs in their kitty and needing to face four overs before the close of play the hosts suffered a major setback in the very first over. Anderson taking the new ball got one to keep low and to Prince's misfortune he inside-edged it onto his stumps as he departed for a duck. Unlike in the first innings the English bowlers, Anderson and Onions, bowled a fuller length trying to invite the batsmen to drive but Smith (6) and nightwatchman Harris (2) ensured that the host did not suffer anymore setbacks at the close of play.


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