Key has the temperament for high-pressure batting

The vogue commodity in Test cricket is momentum. It has been the talk of the town wherever this series has turned up, and clearly has some mileage in it yet. Both teams have craved it at various points, only to unload it as if this inestimable prize was featuring in a game of pass the parcel.

The vogue commodity in Test cricket is momentum. It has been the talk of the town wherever this series has turned up, and clearly has some mileage in it yet. Both teams have craved it at various points, only to unload it as if this inestimable prize was featuring in a game of pass the parcel.

It has gone like this: England had it handed to them first in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, snatched it away briefly in Durban but England regained it, and then South Africa seemed to have annexed it in Cape Town. All week in the build-up to the fourth Test it was easy to tell in whose possession this immeasurably precious element now lay. The home side were not quite going around rubbing their thumbs up and down their chest chanting, "Yah boo sucks, look what we've got", but they knew they had something that England desperately wanted.

They should also have suspected what might happen. The teams have become so evenly matched that you can never be sure if having the momentum is better than not having it. It was like this in England when the countries last met in 2003. Enthrallingly, the series swung one way and the other until finally, at The Oval, England made it 2-2 with one of their most famous victories.

Such a result should not be excluded from consideration in this rubber, The momentum, for what it is worth, shifted initially towards England yesterday, but before bad light ended play early had moved, ever so slightly, back in the direction of South Africa.

The centrepiece of the first day was the partnership of 182 between the phenomenon still known as Andrew Strauss (the next thing you know he will be composing waltzes between overs) and Robert Key.

This was the highest stand for the second wicket in 26 Test matches in the 49 years since the Wanderers - strictly speaking, the New Wanderers - was built and it knocked into a cocked hat the previous highest of 136 compiled, also for England, by Bob Barber and Ted Dexter in 1965.

This statistic alone speaks volumes for the general assumption that the pitch is less than a batting paradise.

But it was slow enough yesterday to be not far from heaven and since England also had the angels on their side in the morning when the outside edge was frequently passed, it was a good moment for Michael Vaughan to win his first toss of the series. Key's mobile phone was busy earlier this week with text messages which warned him of bad news. He was a little perplexed to find that this was the downfall, caused by high winds, of the old lime tree at the St Lawrence ground, Canterbury, the home of his county, Kent. A 200-year-old tree does not necessarily stir the soul of a 25-year-old batsman.

Presumably, the texts yesterday were more upbeat, congratulating him on his 83, unless of course, they were berating him for not getting a hundred. In truth, he should have done, as he well knows, and nicking the old ball to slip is not the smartest of batting moves. Still, Key looks the part most of the time because he has the correct temperament for high-pressure batting.

It is some 20 years since a Kent batsman established himself in the England side and for most of his 31 matches Chris Tavare was as immovable, and some would say as animated as that lime tree. Key has the opportunity and the character to be significantly more than dead wood in England's team.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'