There was a distinctly festive feel to the day despite the grey clouds which flowed across the ground from the south west all morning. A large crowd, early estimates putting it at around 15,000 (capacity is 24,000) clearly attracted by the giveaway entrance fee of just £15, helped to create a great atmosphere. There were queues long into the morning outside the ground as fans came in their thousands in the hope of seeing an England victory.
They were certainly given their money’s worth in an entertaining session. The victory target of 197 looked eminently gettable on paper, but Makhaya Ntini and Morné Morkel kept a tight leash on the England openers and kept the English supporters, at times, on the edge of their seats.
The Oval has made a habit of enticing in large crowds on the final day. They famously filled the ground on the final day of the final test in the 2005 Ashes with tickets at £10, of course on that occasion England clinched the series win in a thrilling game.
Although South Africa had already got this series in the bag before heading for SE11, remarkably the fans arrived in their droves. They clearly wanted to witness a winning start by Kevin Pietersen, the new England captain.
The foundations for a possible victory were well laid by England’s prudent opening pair of Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, the latter looking distinctly uncomfortable at times against both Morkel and Ntini. There was one heart-stopping moment for England supporters when Strauss clipped a ball from Morkel straight into the hands of Ashwell Prince at backward square leg. Although the fielder held on to the catch, fortunately for Strauss it was a no ball, Morkel stretching well over the crease in an effort to take a wicket.
Gradually though the bat asserted itself and the fifty stand came up not long after midday, with Cook in particular really unleashing a few savage pulls and a couple of delightful straight drives.
A stunning shot through the covers by Cook off Jacques Kallis underlined the Essex player’s quality. It crossed the boundary rope for the tenth four of his innings and brought up his fifty – the 14th of his test career. That first Kallis over, which presented England with a total of ten runs, was his last, for the time being. Morkel took over at the earliest opportunity from the Vauxhall End, but there was a real buzz among those discerning supporters who had bothered to make the journey to Kennington.
Cook and Strauss had taken their partnership into three figures well before lunch and suddenly home supporters allowed themselves to contemplate the distinct possibility of a win later this afternoon.