Inexorably, unspectacularly,South Africa took the Second Test out of England's reach yesterday. All day long the tourists batted, tenacious, purposeful, all but chanceless, grinding England into what passes for the dustat Headingley.
Ashwell Prince, the tourists' vice-captain, scored his second hundred of the series, his ninth in all. There was nothing ornate about it, but it had a deep sense of inevitability. Prince, as at Lord's a week earlier, did not put a foot wrong. In its way, his innings was indeed princely.
By the time bad light took the players off for the last time, with 14of the day's 90 overs remaining, Prince and AB de Villiers had put on 179 for the fifth wicket and their side had a lead of 119. De Villiers was of a similar bent to his partner, free of risk or error and similarly careful to avoid anything that might be considered swashbuckling.
The gameplan was clearly followed to the letter, which involved no more than three runs an over. It induced a lassitude in England that spoke of a team not at ease with themselves. This has manifesteditself in their returns: bowled out for 203 and only one wicketon the second day.
For the first time in more than a year, England had an authentic five-man bowling attack, though it was of the motley variety. Four and a half might be closer to the mark because of the out-of-the-blue selection of Darren Pattinson, of Nottinghamshire via Grimsby and,for a much longer detour, Melbourne, Australia.
As it happened, Pattinson took England's only wicket of the day and it was possible to imagine that it might be his first and last, that Headingley, as well as being the birthplace of his Test career, would also be its graveyard.
England always knew they would be in a contest in the second half of the summer and may come to rue their inability to press home their early advantage at Lord's. It was an opening that may not swiftly arise again. South Africa ooze business from every pore.
The sense of anticipation was huge. This was because everybody was wondering if, in short, it would all kick off. Not on the Western Terrace, which is a shadow of its former self in terms of misbehaviour and general doltishness – there has been only one streaker so far and he was fully clothed, complete with zipped-up jerkin. No, the real potential for argy-bargy was out in the middle. The conflict had been neatly set up by the rival coaches after the first day. Peter Moores of England and Mickey Arthur of South Africa had differing views of two controversially claimed catches.
The first had encouraged Vaughan to have words with De Villiers during the lunch interval, the second had been claimed by Vaughan himself but rejected by the third umpire on seeing TV replays after Arthur had waved at the batsman, Hashim Amla, and advised him not to leave the field. Arthur had come up with a marvellously resonant line: "It's amazing, there's a lady up there called Mother Cricket who doesn't sleep. It came back to haunt Michael Vaughan."
So it was expected that Mother Cricket would have to look down on two sides at each other's throats. Not a bit of it. In the event it was not only trouble-free, but anodyne. It was as though South Africa realised they had England where they wanted them and that there was no need to allow acrimony to deflect their attention.
The tourists assessed what they had to do and did it. This was rarely pretty but it was highly effective. They simply wore England down, drawing what sting there was from the attack – and the venom content was not high – and being acquisitive where they could.
Only one wicket fell in the first session, none in the rest of the day. The man to depart was Amla, and if the appeal he had eventually survived was debatable, this one was not. He was simply not out. The ball to which he was adjudged lbw was a low, slow full toss which was missing leg stump. The brief triumph belonged to Pattinson, the Australian-reared seamer who had, astonishingly, been called into England's side on Friday after only five first-class matchesfor Nottinghamshire. Until not long ago he had made his living as a roof tiler in Victoria, the place in which he had lived for 23 of his 29 years, and now here he was living the dream. Not bad, since it was a dream he never actually had.
England might have wished Amla on his way but they probably already sensed they were staring down the barrel. The damage to their cause had been compounded, if not inflicted, when Amla had been given his stay of execution on Friday. True, he added only another 27, but South Africa would have been 76 for 4, having lost three quick wickets, not another 70 runs on.
That was the third crucial moment. The toss, won by South Africa, was the first. The departure of Alastair Cook, given out caught down the leg side after the ball touched only his thigh pad, was the second, since England had been in no trouble at all and this precipitated the hapless batting that followed.
If too little went right for England, it was down to South Africa as well as Mother Cricket. They were unprepared at Lord's but, thanks to the flatness of the pitch, they escaped with a draw. Intwo full days in London they yielded only three second-innings wickets.
It is likely, though England would probably not concede it, that something shifted then. The truth may have dawned that these tourists, unlike the first of the summer, were not going to be worn down, were not about to surrender when it got tough. England would have to dig deep at all times.
Should the match go as it looks like going, the home side's selectors had better come up with something better than they have done so far. Apart from the Pattinson selection, they have taken another risk by promoting Tim Ambrose to No 6, a place in a Test batting order for which he looks distinctly unqualified. To have promoted him fromNo 7, which he filled against the lesser opposition of the New Zealanders, to the pivotal No 6 against an attack which has teeth as opposed to gums, looksill-conceived at best.
Here, the batsmen landed the bowlers in it by being all out for 203 in conditions that were not that unfriendly, but South Africa seized their advantage with an uncluttered determination.
Prince, hardly the most illustrious name in their line-up, was splendid. His method is simple and straightforward, he knows what he does well – cutting, jabbing, flicking off his hips.
He does not tend to play straight down the ground but twice he drove Monty Panesar for sixes into the Football Stand. The second hit the pavilion roof, provoking the thought that if this international bowling lark was not going to work out for Pattinson, he might have a chance to fill in his time with the old day job after play.
South Africa won the toss
England – First Innings 203
South Africa – First Innings (Overnight 101-3)
H M Amla lbw Pattinson
(136 min, 79 balls, 5 fours,) 38
A G Prince not out
(343 min, 249 balls, 14 fours, 3 sixes) 134
A B de Villiers not out
(247 min, 183 balls, 7 fours) 70
Extras (10lb, 1w, 6nb) 17
Total (4 wkts, 454 min, 105 overs) 322
To bat: †M V Boucher, M Morkel, P L Harris, M Ntini, D W Steyn.
Fall (cont): 4-143 (Amla).
Bowling: Anderson 28-6-83-2 (4-0-11-0 12-4-34-2 5-1-15-0 7-1-23-0), Pattinson 16-0-62-1 (nb1) (3-0-16-0 6-0-17-1 1-0-7-0 3-0-9-0 3-0-13-0), Flintoff 28-8-57-1 (nb4) (3-1-6-0 10-1-20-1 6-3-4-0 4-1-15-0 5-2-12-0), Broad 18-2-66-0 (nb1,w1) (4-1-14-0 4-0-23-0 6-0-20-0 2-0-5-0 2-1-4-0), Panesar 13-2-36-0 (12-2-33-0 1-0-3-0), Pietersen 2-0-8-0 (one spell).
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV Umpire: R A Kettleborough (Eng).
Match Referee: J J Crowe (NZ).