Rudolph rides in to ruin England's early present

South Africa 273-7 v England
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The Independent Online

Michael Vaughan must have thought Father Christmas had arrived early when a Stephen Harmison full toss ripped through Jacques Kallis' defence and knocked back his off-stump. The right-hander is one of the world's most consistent batsmen but this misjudgement left South Africa on 66 for 3 and put England, who had already dismissed the dangerous Graeme Smith, in a wonderful position.

Michael Vaughan must have thought Father Christmas had arrived early when a Stephen Harmison full toss ripped through Jacques Kallis' defence and knocked back his off-stump. The right-hander is one of the world's most consistent batsmen but this misjudgement left South Africa on 66 for 3 and put England, who had already dismissed the dangerous Graeme Smith, in a wonderful position.

But then Rudolph came along and spoiled the fun, reclaiming the gifts given to England in the morning session, with a defiant and skilful innings of 93. Jacques Rudolph received dogged support from Boeta Dippenaar, who finished an enthralling day's play unbeaten on 79. The 112-run partnership between this pair, who blunted a patchy England attack, was the chief reason why South Africa were able to reach the competitive total of 273 for 7 by the close of the first day.

England would have discussed ways in which to remove Kallis and Smith - South Africa's two most influential batsmen - in the build-up to this match but never would they have dreamt of dismissing them both for nought. But having achieved this in the first 80 minutes of the day the tourists would have been hoping to bowl South Africa out before the close. Nevertheless, Vaughan's side looked pretty pleased with their day's work as they walked off St George's Park, even if the bowling lacked the consistency England supporters have become accustomed to. South Africa's run-rate - three per over - would appear slow on most grounds but this first-day total is the highest in the eight Test matches played at this venue since readmission in 1991.

The two wickets with the second new ball probably edged the day England's way, but they cannot afford to allow South Africa to score another 50 or 60 runs this morning. England will get a better idea of how well they have bowled on this pitch when they bat today.

The ball from Matthew Hoggard which dismissed Shaun Pollock jagged and bounced from a length that the South African bowlers will hit more than England's.

Hoggard was the pick of Vaughan's attack. The Yorkshireman claimed the crucial wicket of Smith with the first new ball and broke a useful partnership of 61 between Dippenaar and Shaun Pollock with the second. He also bowled the dangerous Andrew Hall with a half volley, via the inside edge of his bat.

Andrew Flintoff also claimed three important wickets but by his high standards he was expensive. This pitch has not been prepared with Harmison in mind but the bowling of the Durham paceman was disappointing.

A strong westerly wind meant there was only one end that the fast bowlers wanted to bowl. Vaughan rotated his pacemen at the Duck Pond End and gave Ashley Giles an extended bowl into the gale. The left-arm spinner gave Vaughan the control he was looking for but he never really looked like taking a wicket.

Hoggard gave England the perfect start when he dismissed Smith with the second ball of the day. Andrew Strauss took the low catch at third slip and it provided the tourists with the tonic they needed, after a week in which they have received criticism for their limited and pretty cocksure preparations for this series.

England's celebrations highlighted what an important wicket Smith's is. The South African captain started the 2003 tour of England with an innings of 277 at Edgbaston. He followed this with 259 at Lord's and finished the series with 714 runs at an average of 79.

Hoggard could have dismissed Rudolph in the same over but Graham Thorpe failed to hold on to the sharp chance at short-leg. Hoggard, running uphill and into the wind deserved more than a solitary wicket in an excellent opening spell.

Harmison's waywardness allowed one of South Africa's two debutants, AB de Villiers, to ease his way into international cricket. The right-hander scored his first Test runs when he cut the Durham paceman for two and a first boundary soon followed when he drove Harmison through the covers for four.

But just when de Villiers appeared to be settled Flintoff angled one in and trapped him in front. The sight of Kallis striding out encouraged Vaughan to bring Harmison back into the attack. And it proved to be an inspired piece of captaincy when his first delivery bowled South Africa's leading batsman.

Vaughan had positioned a fielder on the deep square leg boundary, to make Kallis feel that a short ball was coming, but Harmison double-bluffed him and went for the yorker. Kallis did not seem to see the ball and later admitted that he lost it over the top of the sightscreen.

England would have been expecting to make further inroads during the afternoon but Rudolph and Dippenaar dug in and frustrated Vaughan. The pair did not look to take any risks and waited for England's bowlers to stray.

Rudolph needed this innings. The 23-year-old is an elegant player, who drives the ball beautifully, but his previous six innings had produced only one double figure score.

After exercising exemplary concentration for more than four hours Rudolph then made a rare mistake and it cost him his wicket. There was nothing special about the Flintoff delivery which dismissed Rudolph but it was the previous ball - a well aimed bouncer which appeared to flick his glove - that unsettled him.

The England fielders appealed loudly but umpire, Darrell Hair, refused to oblige. After the next delivery he did raise his finger when a loose waft was edged through to the keeper.

Zander de Bruyn was bowled offering no shot and Dippenaar should have been caught on 74, but Marcus Trescothick failed to get a hand on a low chance. The right-hander will be hoping to make this count by scoring his second Test century this morning. It may yet prove to be decisive.

Port Elizabeth Scoreboard

South Africa won toss

South Africa - First innings

*G C Smith c Strauss b Hoggard 0 2 min, 2 balls

A B de Villiers lbw b Flintoff 28 81 min, 47 balls, 4 fours

J A Rudolph c G Jones b Flintoff 93 253 min, 192 balls, 14 fours

J H Kallis b Harmison 0 14 min, 7 balls

H H Dippenaar not out 79 292 min, 193 balls, 8 fours

Z de Bruyn b Flintoff 6 20 min, 23 balls, 1 four

S M Pollock c Trescothick b Hoggard 31 77 min, 52 balls, 5 fours

A J Hall b Hoggard 6 10 min, 10 balls, 1 four

ÝT L Tsolekile not out 6 22 min, 23 balls

Extras (lb 11, w 4, nb 9) 24

Total (for 7, 389 min, 90 overs) 273

Fall: 1-0 (Smith), 2-63 (de Villiers), 3-66 (Kallis), 4-178 (Rudolph), 5-192 (de Bruyn), 6-253 (Pollock), 7-261 (Hall).

To bat: M Ntini, D W Steyn.

Bowling: Hoggard 15-3-41-3 (nb1) (7-1-18-1, 3-1-12-0, 5-1-11-2); Harmison 20-2-73-1 (w3) (5-0-28-0, 3-1-10-1, 4-0-10-0, 3-0-10-0, 5-1-15-0); S Jones 14-4-34-0 (nb2) (3-0-14-0, 7-2-16-0, 2-1-1-0, 2-1-3-0); Flintoff 17-2-62-3 (nb6,w1) (7-2-13-1, 3-0-16-0, 7-0-33-2); Giles 24-8-52-0 (22-7-48-0, 2-1-4-0).

Progress: First day: 50: 58 min, 12.2 overs. Lunch 83-3 (Rudolph 41, Dippenaar 6) 25 overs. 100: 137 min, 29.0 overs. 150: 228 min, 52.1 overs. Tea 164-3 (Rudolph 84, Dippenaar 41) 56 overs. 200: 288 min, 67.2 overs. New ball taken after 80.2 overs at 248-5. 250: 350 min, 81.2 overs.

Rudolph's 50: 132 min, 89 balls, 8 fours.

Dippenaar's 50: 189 min, 130 balls, 5 fours.

ENGLAND: M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, M A Butcher, *M P Vaughan, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, ÝG O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S P Jones, S J Harmison.

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and S J A Taufel (Aus).

TV replay umpire: I L Howell (SA).

Match referee: C H Lloyd (W Indies).

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