It would be tempting to hand all the credit for a remarkable afternoon session to the England bowling attack, until it is remembered that South Africa already have this series in the bag, 2-0.
And there was most definitely an impression of a casual, lackadaisical approach by the usually steely-disciplined South African batsmen. If they were not exactly de-mob happy, there was certainly an air of complacency to some of the shot selection.
The result was extremely entertaining and, for England fans among the sell-out Oval crowd, gratifying as their heroes, under new leadership, got in among the Proteas in ways that they had tried, but failed to do in the previous three Tests. It was also pretty good news for Kevin Pietersen, England’s new captain, just the sort of start to his reign the new leader would have wanted.
The action, especially after lunch, was fast and furious on this opening day of the fourth and final test between England and South Africa, and fortunes were as changeable as the weather has been over South London.
The proximity of the ground to the River Thames is a factor which appears to affect the weather, that was certainly the opinion of Paul Brind, the former head groundsman here.
In some curious way and for no logical reason Brind reckoned that a weather front would ‘track’ the river, sliding either side of the ground. It has certainly been the case that when Middlesex have been rained off at Lord’s play has carried on uninterrupted all day at The Oval.
That was no more evident than this morning, when menacing black clouds had rolled ominously and continuously, around the Kennington Oval, without a drop of rain falling until 15 minutes before lunch, but in the stygian gloom England saw two chances spilled – one off the first ball of the match.
The threatened rain eventually arrived a quarter of an hour before lunch and the two sides left the field with honours just about even.
But what a difference an interval makes. Play resumed, after an early lunch, in bright sunshine and although the luckless Alastair Cook, who had put down a simple chance off that first ball when fielding in the gully, almost got a hand to another one later on, completed an unenviable hat-trick shortly after lunch when he let Hashim Amla off the hook, the sun still shone on England.
But Stephen Harmison blew the clouds of misery away with two wickets in two balls, accounting for South Africa captain Graeme Smith and the aforementioned Amla.
When Jimmy Anderson then had the out-of-form Jacques Kallis lbw three wickets had fallen in the space of eight balls. The skies darkened over South Africa still further when Ashwell Prince drove at an Anderson half volley to be snapped up at cover, Mark Boucher followed, caught behind off the same bowler not long afterwards. When Monty Panesar claimed the wicket of AB de Villiers, South Africa’s first innings was suddenly under a cloud. England’s cricketing sons beamed.