At the conclusion of England's second consecutive three-day demolition of Zimbabwe in June, Nasser Hussain told the newest members of his side that the six days of Test cricket they had just played were atypical. After watching Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith take his bowling attack apart yesterday and put on 338 for South Africa's first wicket - the sixth highest opening stand in Test history and the highest against England - the only comfort the England captain could take from the first day of this Test was that it could not be described as normal either.
Series are never won on the first day, but seldom can a team have made a stronger statement of intent than that made by South Africa. Having scored 398 for the loss of only Gibbs, who played magnificently during his innings of 179, a draw is already the best outcome England can hope for. With the pitch offering little encouragement to the bowlers and the weather forecast being dodgy, Hussain's side have a good chance of attaining such a result even if Marcus Trescothick were to take no further part after sustaining a small, undisplaced fracture to the tip of his right index finger.
After fumbling the ball at first slip he was forced to leave the field and a subsequent x-ray revealed the damage which kept him off the field for the remainder of the day. A decision on whether the opener is fit to bat will be made at the end of the South Africa innings.
That Smith, whose chanceless, unbeaten 178 consumed the entire day, seems capable of making his side's innings last as long as he wants suggests Trescothick's break may have had the chance to heal by the time he is required to bat.
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, said: "We will have to find out in the morning. It depends. He felt quite confident tonight. It's a minor fracture and the right hand is hidden away for a left-handed batsman.
"It was a good toss to win," he added. "It is a very good batting wicket and hope it remains so when we bat on it. Our bowling is still inexperienced and hope we learn quickly from this experience. We should have been more defensive."
On the eve of the match Hussain said that the time was right for England to pounce and make the most of the apparent unrest in the tourists' camp. However, after chasing leather for six hours and watching his bowlers show appalling discipline, it would be fair to say the seats in the visitors' dressing-room were far more comfortable than those in England's after the close of play.
The South Africans would have been aware that it is 12 matches since the side batting first won a Test at this ground. But, with both sides wearing black armbands to mark the death of Jacques Kallis's father on Wednesday, Smith wasted little time in deciding to bat on a dry, slow pitch when he won the toss.
Against a new-ball attack that troubled him and his opening partner during the recent one-day series - Gibbs scored 17 runs in four matches against England - the pair were watchful to begin with. Indeed, it took Gibbs 25 balls to get off the mark, finally pulling James Anderson for three.
This stroke, along with further pulls and cuts against wayward and unintelligent bowling, allowed Gibbs's confidence to soar. He happily took advantage of such fodder and it was not long before the poor footwork that had previously let him down disappeared.
As well as Gibbs played, the bowling was awful, so much so that 165 runs were conceded in the middle session, of which Gibbs scored 96. In the NatWest Series he was consistently dismissed by fullish balls that moved into him. Hussain would have demanded a similar method of attack and it is difficult to understand how the length of the bowlers could err so badly against a player renowned for his back-foot play.
Darren Gough, playing his first Test in almost two years, had a miserable day and looked off the pace. As ever, England's senior bowler gave it his all, but his body does not appear to allow him the cutting edge of old. When Gibbs effortlessly hooked a Gough bouncer over the deep midwicket boundary for six, even he must have wondered whether he still has what it takes to compete in this form of the game.
However, Anderson was the poorest bowler. There is bound to be inconsistency in young bowlers because it takes time for an action to become fully grooved and easy to repeat, but yesterday the 21-year-old was all over the place. The Lancastrian did create the first chance of the day, when Gibbs chipped a hard chance back at him on 94, but all he managed to do was deflect the ball to mid-off.
Anderson was made to pay for this error when his next two balls were cut to the boundary by Gibbs, the second of them bringing up his ninth Test hundred. Gibbs had two further escapes, on 125 and 157, before he got carried away and slogged Michael Vaughan into the safe hands of Mark Butcher at deep midwicket.
Smith looked solid and determined from the moment he took guard. Built more like a flanker than an opening batsman, South Africa's leader is not a pretty player. Unlike Gibbs, who uses his bat like a wand, Smith wields his piece of willow more in the manner of a lumberjack. Looking to play straight at the start of his innings, the 22-year-old timed the ball superbly off his legs and latched on to anything over-pitched - of which there was plenty.
The left-hander could not have wished for a better start in the first true Test of his captaincy. Every leader states how important it is to score runs and Smith would have gone to bed a far more contented man than his opposite number, who has immediately been put under pressure.
South Africa won toss
SOUTH AFRICA First Innings
*G C Smith not out 178
364 min, 257 balls, 25 fours
H H Gibbs c Butcher b Vaughan 179
305 min, 236 balls, 29 fours, 1 six
G Kirsten not out 26
58 min, 56 balls, 3 fours
Extras (b4 lb8 nb3) 15
Total (for 1, 364 min, 91 overs) 398
Fall: 1-338 (Gibbs).
To bat: J A Rudolph, H H Dippenaar, ÝM V Boucher, S M Pollock, D Pretorius, C M Willoughby, R J Peterson, M Ntini.
Bowling: Anderson 13-1-78-0 (nb1) (6-1-26-0, 2-0-19-0, 2-0-17-0, 3-0-16-0); Gough 14-4-64-0 (nb1) (4-3-6-0, 2-0-9-0, 4-1-19-0, 3-0-24-0, 1-0-6-0); Flintoff 16-4-67-0 (nb1) (7-3-18-0, 4-1-17-0, 3-0-17-0, 2-0-15-0); Harmison 18-2-69-0 (7-1-17-0, 3-0-18-0, 6-1-30-0, 2-0-4-0); Giles 20-1-67-0 (1-0-1-0, 6-1-28-0, 3-0-13-0, 9-0-24-0, 1-0-1-0); Butcher 2-0-15-0, Vaughan 8-0-26-1 (one spell each).
Progress: First day: 50: 62 min, 14.3 overs. 100: 120 min, 28.3 overs. Lunch: 100-0 (Smith 47, Gibbs 47) 29 overs. 150: 163 min, 38.5 overs. 200: 197 min, 47.2 overs. 250: 229 min, 54.4 overs. Tea: 265-0 (Smith 107, Gibbs, 143) 58 overs. 300: 264 min, 63.3 overs. 350: 324 min, 80.4 overs. Rain stopped play: 5.14-5.22pm 356-1 (Smith 157, Kirsten 5) 82 overs. New ball taken after 82 overs at 356-1.
Smith's 50: 155 min, 115 balls, 9 fours. 100: 225 min, 161 balls, 16 fours. 150: 322 min, 231 balls, 21 fours.
Gibbs's 50: 140 min, 96 balls, 9 fours. 100: 194 min, 138 balls, 18 fours, 1 six. 150: 244 min, 188 balls, 26 fours, 1 six.
ENGLAND: M E Trescothick, M P Vaughan, M A Butcher, *N Hussain, A McGrath, A Flintoff, ÝA J Stewart, A F Giles, D Gough, J M Anderson, S J Harmison.
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) and S Venkataraghavan (Ind).
TV Replay Umpire: J W Lloyds.
Highest Opening Test Partnerships V England
338 H H Gibbs and G C Smith
S Africa Edgbaston 2003
329 G R Marsh and M A Taylor
Australia Trent Bridge 1989
298 G C Greenidge and D L Haynes
WI Antigua 1989-90
276 C S Dempster and J E Mills
NZ Wellington 1929-30
260 M J Slater and M A Taylor
Australia Lord's 1993
260 B Mitchell and I J Siedle
S Africa Cape Town 1930-31
244 W M Lawry and R B Simpson
Australia Adelaide 1965-66
213 C P S Chauhan and S M Gavaskar
India The Oval 1979
208 M J Slater and M A Taylor
Australia Sydney 1994-95
206 R C Fredericks and L G Rowe
WI Jamaica 1973-74
All-Time Highest Opening Test Partnerships
413 M H Mankad and Pankaj Roy
India (v NZ), Madras 1955-56
387 T W Jarvis and G M Turner
NZ (v WI), Georgetown, 1971-72
382 W M Lawry and R B Simpson
Aus (v WI), Bridgetown, 1964-65
368 H H Gibbs and G C Smith
SA (v Pak), Cape Town, 2002-03
359 L Hutton and C Washbrook
Eng (v SA), Ellis Park, 1948-49
338 H H Gibbs and G C Smith
SA (v Eng), Edgbaston, 2003
335 M S Atapattu and S L Jayasuriya
S Lanka (v Pak), Kandy, 1999-00
329 G R Marsh and M A Taylor
Aus (v Eng), Trent Bridge, 1989
323 J B Hobbs and W Rhodes
Eng (v Aus), Melbourne, 1911-12
298 Aamir Sohail and Ijaz Ahmed
Pak (v WI), Karachi, 1997-98Reuse content