Kevin Pietersen's reign as captain was given the perfect start yesterday when England bowled South Africa out for 194 on the opening day of the fourth Test at The Oval.
Pietersen and England were assisted by the South African batsmen whose dedication to the cause had an end-of-term feel to it but, at the conclusion of a momentous week, the hosts were overjoyed to accept any handouts that came their way. In reply, England lost Andrew Strauss early for six but Alastair Cook and Ian Bell held firm, guiding their side to 49 for 1 before an intriguing day ended.
Pietersen's practical and enthusiastic captaincy was in stark contrast to that of Michael Vaughan, his predecessor. Vaughan loved to tinker with the field, continually laying potential traps for unaware batsmen. Pietersen's fields were safe and sensible, and they worked. It was a wise way to start.
That South Africa were still revelling in the afterglow of last week's momentous victory at Edgbaston – a win that gave them their first series success in England since readmission in 1992 – was forgivable, even though Graeme Smith, the captain, insisted that his team would be fully focused. There are times when the body does not do what the mind tells it to.
At the end of a tough and disappointing series England were grateful for the tourists' indiscretions, it gave them the chance to walk off a cricket field feeling as though they had achieved something. James Anderson, with excellent figures of 3 for 42, was England's chief wicket-taker but it was the sight of Stephen Harmison roaring in and bowling with control and hostility that made the biggest impression. There are many who questioned the wisdom of recalling a bowler with a chequered history but this display totally vindicated the selectors.
Pietersen must have feared his upbeat and positive captaincy was going to receive an early test when he lost the toss, watched Cook drop a straightforward catch at gully off the first ball of the day and then witnessed South Africa, somewhat fortuitously, make their way to 56 without loss. Smith's magnificent match winning unbeaten 154 at Edgbaston highlighted why it is inadvisable to grass the occasional chance he offers but that is just what Cook did when the South African captain cut Harmison's opening ball straight at him. Harmison gave a rueful smile as the ball touched turf but secretly he must have wanted to strangle the England opener.
The scoreboard did not reflect it but Harmison and England bowled well in the first session, deserving far more than the solitary wicket they claimed. On an Oval pitch offering far greater seam and swing movement than normal, the ball flashed past the bat on numerous occasions. If there was a criticism to be aimed at England's bowlers it was that they pitched fractionally short, an error that results in the ball having moved too far by the time it reaches the batsman.
The wicket-taking ball, bowled by Andrew Flintoff, was the fullest of his spell and it drew Neil McKenzie in to driving loosely and edging a catch, which was gratefully taken by Cook at third slip. Rain took the players off for an early lunch and the afternoon session seemed to be following the course of the morning when Cook tipped a difficult chance offered by Hashim Amla over the crossbar.
But the entire nature of the day changed when Smith attempted to hook a short ball from Harmison and top edged a catch to James Anderson at fine leg. It is hard to believe the South African captain would have taken on such a shot had the series not been won but it provided Pietersen, England and Harmison with just the fillip they required.
Flintoff was the first to congratulate Harmison, jumping on his close friend as he celebrated the first wicket of his comeback. This was not the first occasion Harmison has pitched up at a Test with people talking positively about his form, but on far too many previous occasions he had failed to live up to expectations. The 29 year-old fully deserved the wicket of Smith, as he did the scalp of Amla who he bowled for 36 with a beauty the very next ball.
Ashwell Prince survived the hat-trick ball but Anderson continued Jacques Kallis' miserable run of form when he trapped the right-hander lbw in the next over. The dismissal leaves Kallis, one of the world's leading batsmen, with 96 runs to show for his six visits to the crease. Kallis supplied Anderson with his 100th Test wicket, and he did not have to wait long for his 101st, donated by Prince who drove carelessly to Ian Bell at cover point.
Mark Boucher became the 26-year-old's third victim when he edged a loose waft through to the wicketkeeper and, on the stroke of tea, A B de Villiers entertaining innings ended when he was adjudged lbw attempting to work Monty Panesar's third ball of the day in to the leg side. Television replays suggested the ball would not have hit the stumps but England could not have cared less. The wicket was the sixth of the session and it reduced South Africa to 158 for 7.
Morne Morkel and Andre Nel quickly followed, giving the slightly erratic Stuart Broad a couple of confidence-boosting wickets. Paul Harris and Ntini frustrated England's bowlers for 42 minutes, playing and missing at more balls than they hit, until Pietersen brought Panesar back on to bowl. The change, not for the first time in the day, brought immediate reward when Ntini missed a heave and was bowled. Pietersen is cute enough to know that harder days lie ahead.
Test speed kings of 2008
Stephen Harmison's bowling reached 93mph yesterday at The Oval, the quickest by an Englishman in Test cricket this year. But it was a slightly slower ball – 92.9mph – that did most damage, as it was too quick for Hashim Amla, uprooting the South African's middle stump. The quickest Test deliveries this year are:
Brett Lee 99.4mph; 16 January, Australia v India at Perth
Dale Steyn 97.3mph; 3 April, India v South Africa at Ahmedabad
Shaun Tait 96.9mph; 18 January, Australia v India at Perth
Ishant Sharma 94.8mph; 12 February, Australia v India at Adelaide
Morne Morkel 94.3mph; 3 April, India v South Africa at Ahmedabad
Stephen Harmison 93mph; 7 August, England v South Africa at The Oval
Shot of the day
Graeme Smith rode his luck during his innings of 46 as he struggled to come to terms with seaming and swinging conditions. But one shot, a push through mid-on off Andrew Flintoff, showed that the pitch was good. Smith did no more than lean on the on-drive.
Ball of the day
Stephen Harmison responded superbly to Kevin Pietersen giving him greater responsibility. Of his two wickets it would have been the inswinger that knocked down Hashim Amla's middle stump that gave him the most pleasure.
Moment of the day
When Kevin Pietersen led England out for the first time in Test cricket everyone wondered if he would call a team huddle. He did not. The players, knowing what was expected of them, ran to their fielding positions.
South Africa won toss
South Africa – First Innings
*G C Smith c Anderson b Harmison 46
148 min, 103 balls, 7 fours
N D McKenzie c Cook b Flintoff 17
95 min, 55 balls, 2 fours
H M Amla b Harmison 36
54 min, 35 balls, 8 fours
J H Kallis lbw b Anderson 2
8 min, 5 balls
A G Prince c Bell b Anderson 4
28 min, 14 balls, 1 four
A B de Villiers lbw b Panesar 39
81 min, 53 balls, 8 fours
†M V Boucher c Ambrose b Anderson 3
23 min, 13 balls
M Morkel c Bell b Broad 17
49 min, 30 balls, 3 fours
P L Harris not out 13
68 min, 49 balls, 1 four
A Nel c Ambrose b Broad 4
8 min, 5 balls, 1 four
M Ntini b Panesar 9
44 min, 29 balls, 1 four
Extras (b1, lb1, w0, nb2, pens0) 4
Total (307 min, 64.5 overs) 194
Fall: 1-56 (McKenzie), 2-103 (Smith), 3-103 (Amla), 4-105 (Kallis), 5-118 (Prince), 6-132 (Boucher), 7-158 (de Villiers), 8-168 (Morkel), 9-172 (Nel), 10-194 (Ntini).
Bowling: Harmison 18-6-49-2 (8-3-24-0 6-2-16-2 4-1-9-0), Anderson 15-1-42-3 (nb2) (5-0-12-0 8-1-24-3 2-0-6-0), Flintoff 15-2-37-1 (9-2-24-1 4-0-9-0 2-0-4-0), Broad 14-3-60-2 (7-2-33-0 7-1-27-2), Panesar 2.5-0-4-2 (2-0-2-1 0.5-0-2-1).
Progress: First day: 50 in 87 min, 18.4 overs. Rain stopped play 12.44pm – early lunch taken 64-1 (Smith 40, Amla 4) 21.5 overs. Restarted on time at 1.24pm. 100 in 140 min, 30 overs. 150 in 234 min, 48.2 overs. Tea 158-7 (Morkel 7) 49.3 overs. Innings closed 5.06pm.
England – First Innings
A J Strauss c Smith b Ntini 6
16 min, 20 balls, 1 four
A N Cook not out 20
76 min, 45 balls, 2 fours
I R Bell not out 22
59 min, 37 balls, 3 fours, 1 five
Extras (b0, lb1, w0, nb0, pens0) 1
Total (for 1, 76 min, 17 overs) 49
Fall: 1-7 (Strauss).
To bat: *K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, †T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Morkel 6-0-14-0, Ntini 8-1-27-1, Nel 3-0-7-0 (one spell each).
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S J Davis (Aus).
TV replay umpire: P J Hartley.
Match referee: R S Madugalle (S Lanka).
Oval weather forecast
Today: Showers in the morning but may brighten up later. Max Temp 21C
Tomorrow: Overcast and breezy with frequent showers. 19C
Sunday: Persistent rain and wind throughout the day. 20C
Monday: Predominately sunny, but some scattered showers. 22C