Proteas cook in Durbs heat

2009-12-29 00:00

IN the most glorious sunshine, England’s middle order answered questions about their ability in the best possible fashion to put the visitors in the driving seat of the second Test of this compelling series.

Led by a stubborn Alastair Cook century that made up for its lack of style with its discipline, England’s innings stood at 386 for five when stumps were called in brilliant Durban weather.

And it was about time, too — for the weather, that is. For the hordes of touring fans who form part of the Army that is Barmy, yesterday was fine evidence of why the trip over has been worth it.

England simply battled and batted, then batted some more. Even a bout of Coldplay by Kevin Pietersen, with a rush of blood to the head that left him looking distinctly yellow, didn’t halt the English machine from ticking along purposefully.

For the Proteas, Morné Morkel was nothing short of magnificent. But battles are seldom won by a lone hand, and the lanky speedster was let down by his team-mates. At different times this year, each of the Protea bowlers has suffered a dip. But yesterday, at the worst of times, the four-pronged attack became a one-man band as Dale Steyn was still searching for his rhythm after a period of time off through injury.

Fellow paceman Makhaya Ntini improved on the previous day’s shambles, but he looked a pale shadow of the warrior that Graeme Smith spoke so strongly of on the eve of this Test match.

It can be painful watching a career in decline, and many who were at Kingsmead recognised a man who not only wanted a wicket, but one who desperately craved one to stave off the critics.

The zip of yesteryear is missing, and though Ntini usually gets better as a series progresses, he may not make it to the Cape Town Test. It really is that concerning.

Smith’s other ally, Paul Harris, was also not at his best as he leaked runs and generally lacked the irritability that saw him garner key wickets regularly last season.

He did, though, nab an ominous looking Pietersen for 31. Before that, the local turned tourist had looked in pretty dangerous nick, driving with a brutality not seen from anyone on the first two days.

In between a lot of fine Test batting by England, Morkel produced several hostile deliveries for which he was rewarded. His dismissals of Cook (after a marathon 118 that spanned 400 minutes) and Jonathan Trott were due to balls that asked serious questions of quality batsmen — a good sign for the future.

Cook, after seeing Pietersen go, found another warhorse in Paul Collingwood. They were circumspect for long periods, then suddenly exploded in a flurry of fours. Indeed, Cook scored a solitary run in the first hour.

“I was really chuffed that I got through that patch and remained disciplined,” the left-hander said after the day’s play.

“I guess you could say I was under pressure, and I was very relieved to get to 100 and contribute to the team’s success.”

Cook got there, but Collingwood fell nine short in a fine display.

If the Proteas sensed an opening, they would have been depressed by the freedom with which the embattled Ian Bell scored.

After being woken up by a Morkel snorter, the dimunitive Bell rushed to 50 off just 65 balls, a knock laced with confident drives and pulls.

Mickey Arthur had said Cook and Bell were under the cosh, but the Proteas coach was forced into a re-evaluation yesterday.

“They are both quality batters, and they obviously played very well out there. I thought it was a hard day of Test cricket, with no inch given, and we have a lot to do from here on in.”

On a pitch flatter than most billiard tables, the Proteas may yet find themselves with a hefty deficit to make up when the England first dig finally ends.

There is life in this game yet, and it is the tourists who currently hold all of the key cards.

SCOREBOARD

South Africa v England

Scoreboard at close of play on the third day of the second Castle Lager Test between South Africa and England at Kingsmead yesterday.

Toss: South Africa

South Africa first innings 343 all out

England first innings (o/n 103/1)

A Strauss b Morkel54

A Cook c Kallis b Morkel118

J Trott c Boucher b Morkel18

K Pietersen lbw Morkel31

P Collingwood c Boucher b Duminy91

I Bell not out55

M Prior not out11

Extras8

Total (for 5 wkts - 123 overs)386

Fall of wickets: 1-71 (Strauss 18.4), 2-103 (Trott 27.3), 3-155 (Pietersen 47.3), 4-297 (Cook 92.4), 5-365 (Collingwood 113.5)

Bowling: Steyn 26-6-60-0, Ntini 20-3-79-0, Morkel 27-6-69-3 (3w), Kallis 14-1-43-0 (1nb), Harris 23-2-92-1, Duminy 13-1-39-1

— Sapa.

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