South Africa's 12th and 13th men embarrassed England on the opening day of the third Test here yesterday, taking Graeme Smith's side a large stride closer to a first series victory on these shores since readmission when they bowled Michael Vaughan's side out for 231. Andre Nel, who assumes his alter ego Gunther whenever he walks on to a cricket field, and Jacques Kallis, whose exceptional all-round skills allow him to fill the role of two men, shared six wickets as England's batsmen once again failed to show the rigour required to score runs at the highest level.
Alastair Cook and Ian Bell scored contrasting half-centuries but Michael Vaughan, England's under-fire and out-of-form captain was out first ball, and Paul Collingwood, the run-shy returning middle-order batsman, struck just four runs. England's pitiful plight was underlined by the school playground manner in which they lost their last two wickets. With Andrew Flintoff moving into top gear and looking dangerous on 36, thoughtful and determined batting could have resulted in another 30 or 40 runs being added to England's disappointing total. But rather than knuckle down and frustrate, James Anderson and Monty Panesar were run out in consecutive balls as Flintoff attempted to keep strike.
Anderson was caught unawares by a legitimate call for a quick single by Flintoff, his despairing lunge beaten by a direct throw from Ashwell Prince. Panesar's cringeworthy exit was the fault of both players. When Panesar nudged the final ball of Makhaya Ntini's over to fine leg Flintoff should have sent him back but the pair attempted to complete a ridiculous second run, a gesture that resulted in England's spinner being run out by yards. An angry Flintoff realised the futility of his actions, swung his bat hard and stormed from the field on seeing Panesar fail to make his ground.
Flintoff brought brief joy when he had Smith caught expertly at first slip with his second ball, but the tourists safely negotiated the remaining four overs to finish the day on 38 for 1. If England are to retain any hope of winning this series they need to strike early this morning.
As on the first day at Headingley, England's opening batsmen were rarely troubled by a Dale Steyn-less South African attack. On a turgid pitch Andrew Strauss and Cook had plenty of time to line the ball up and pick off Morne Morkel, Ntini and Nel. A high proportion of England's initial runs came through safe edges to third man, but once the pair had become accustomed to the pace and bounce of the pitch an equal number were collected via the pull shot.
Yet, as at Headingley, the entire nature of the day and game changed when England lost their first wicket. On this occasion it was not umpiring error that sparked life into the South Africans but dodgy footwork from Strauss. In his career the England opener will have nudged thousands of hip-high leg-stump balls from a fast bowler into the leg side for a single but yesterday, for reasons only Strauss can explain, he took a bigger stride back as he set off, movement that resulted in his left heel coming into contact with middle stump. As a forlorn Strauss walked, the aggressive Nel celebrated with his relieved team-mates.
Nel is a somewhat complicated and at times overzealous cricketer, but his foolish behaviour should not hide the fact that he is an extremely capable and wholehearted bowler, and he was rejoicing again a minute later when he dismissed Vaughan first ball. The England captain was hoping to capitalise on the absence of the injured Steyn, who had caused him countless problems at Lord's and Headingley. The delivery from Nel was perfect, pitched on a full, probing length and Vaughan had to play at it. But he failed to move his bat and front leg far enough across to the off side and was adjudged to have edged a catch through to the unappealing Mark Boucher.
Vaughan was perplexed by the decision and television replays failed to confirm whether he had hit the ball or not. Hotspot, a black-and-white, X-ray style system that highlights heat caused by the friction of two items making contact with each other, suggested Vaughan had missed the ball. But snicko, a gizmo that links the high-pitched sound created by a fine edge, implied that he had, indeed, touched the ball. In the end the man that counted, umpire Aleem Dar, agreed with Nel and raised his finger.
Sixty-eight for 2 became 74 for 3 when Kevin Pietersen was given out caught in the gully. Pietersen appeared baffled by the decision too. He initially believed he had been given out lbw to Kallis when he thought he had hit the ball, forgetting that it had subsequently carried to Ashwell Prince. Television replays showed that Pietersen did not, in fact, hit the ball with his bat but pad. The umpire Steve Davis made the wrong decision but he was right to raise his finger because Kallis had trapped Pietersen plumb in front. The dismissals of Vaughan and Pietersen highlighted the fallibility of technology.
Cook and Ian Bell survived until lunch and prospered after the interval. Cook passed 50 for the 13th time in Test cricket while Bell struck the ball with unerring precision. The pair added 62 before Cook nibbled at a short of a length ball from Nel, offering Kallis the chance to take an excellent catch diving low and to his left.
Collingwood needed a significant score to reward the faith shown in him by the selectors but his 44-minute stay only added to his tortuous summer with the bat. Collingwood played one convincing shot in the 22 balls he faced, a straight driven boundary, before edging an away swinger from Kallis to first slip. The stroke highlighted the batsman's troubles. He should have been playing straight down the ground, but his right hand took over as the bat came down, dragging the blade slightly across the line of the ball,enhancing the probability of an edge.
Bell reached 50 with a crunching extra-cover drive but he too failed to get his angles exactly right against Ntini, edging a leg-cutter to Boucher. Tim Ambrose and Flintoff eked out 39 runs before Ambrose weakly played on. Ryan Sidebottom then edged another good ball to Boucher before England's innings ran out of time.
Out of luck The three strange dismissals that sent England tumbling
Pietersen was rightly given out off the bowling of Jacques Kallis but not for the reason umpire Steve Davis thought. The full inswinger from Kallis hit Pietersen on the pad in front of off stump and lobbed to Ashwell Prince fielding at gully. Davis thought Pietersen had edged the ball on to his pad and gave him out caught, but replays showed the batsman had hit his pad with his bat rather than the ball. Pietersen hung around puzzled by his dismissal, but either way he was out. England 74-3
The opener appeared in little trouble against the new ball and he looked set to move to 21 when he nudged Andre Nel into the leg side for a single. But, while attempting to push off for a run, his left foot went too far back, his heel knocking back the middle stump. England 68-1
Not a lot has gone the way of the England captain recently and the trend continued yesterday when he was contentiously given out caught behind off the first ball he faced. Technology contradicted itself, with Hot Spot – a heat sensor – suggesting Vaughan had missed the ball and the Snickometer – a sound detection system – suggesting he had hit it. Umpire Aleem Dar, whose opinion counted, thought he had hit it and off Vaughan went. England 68-2
By Angus Fraser
England won toss
England – First Innings
A J Strauss hit wicket b Nel: 20
94 min, 67 balls, 3 fours
A N Cook c Kallis b Nel: 76
175 min, 125 balls, 12 fours
*M P Vaughan c Boucher b Nel: 0
1 min, 1 ball
K P Pietersen c Prince b Kallis: 4
12 min, 9 balls
I R Bell c Boucher b Ntini:50
129 min, 98 balls, 9 fours
P D Collingwood c Smith b Kallis:4
45 min, 22 balls, 1 four
A Flintoff not out: 36
112 min, 78 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
T R Ambrose b Kallis: 22
75 min, 59 balls, 3 fours
R J Sidebottom c Boucher b Ntini: 2
5 min, 4 balls
J M Anderson run out (Prince TV replay): 1
10 min, 3 balls
M S Panesar run out (Amla: 1
1 min, 1 ball
Extras:(b1 lb7 w2 nb5):15
Total: (334 min, 77 overs):231
Fall: 1-68 (Strauss) 2-68 (Vaughan) 3-74 (Pietersen) 4-136 (Cook) 5-158 (Collingwood) 6-173 (Bell) 7-212 (Ambrose) 8-215 (Sidebottom) 9-230 (Anderson) 10-231 (Panesar).
Bowling: Morkel 15-2-50-0 (nb4); Ntini 19-5-70-2 (nb1); Nel 17-7-47-3 (w1); Kallis 15-5-31-3 (w1); Harris 11-1-25-0.
South Africa – First Innings
N D McKenzie not out: 12
50 min, 31 balls, 2 fours
*G C Smith c Strauss b Flintoff: 7
32 min, 21 balls
P L Harris not out: 10
17 min, 15 balls, 2 fours
Extras (lb8, nb1): 9
Total (for 1, 50 min, 11 overs): 38
Fall: 1-17 (Smith).
To bat: H M Amla, J H Kallis, A G Prince, A B de Villiers, M V Boucher, M Morkel, A Nel, M Ntini.
Bowling: Sidebottom 6-2-16-0; Anderson 3-0-10-0 (nb1); Flintoff 2-1-4-1.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S J Davis (Aus).
TV replay umpire: I J Gould.
Match referee: R S Madugalle.