Steyn bowls to sound of silence as tourists wallow in troubled water

 

In the unlikely event that there is room for another sponsor in this Investec Test series, an approach should be made to those delectable old folkies, Simon and Garfunkel. Since they have apparently reunited again for the 173rd time, they may well be available to accompany this tour with the song that started it all for them, The Sound of Silence.

They could perform it in a two-man guard of honour for South Africa each time they take the field in the next five weeks. The opening day of this long-awaited rubber was marked by the tourists' astonishing reticence.

It was fully expected, indeed it was intended to be part of the fun, that they would be in England's face (sometimes literally), cajoling, chattering, staring and generally trying to discomfit their opponents. Instead, nothing. They spent most of the day as though they were operating in the reading room at the British Museum.

There was a strange lack of zest about South Africa's play. They had talked about being ready for this clash of the titans despite their lack of preparation but that was plainly a load of old biltong. Dale Steyn, the most fearsome proposition in the world, was oddly tame. Perhaps he never recovered from the decision not to let him have the new ball at the start of the match. He was out of sorts all day.

It was not that South Africa were going through the motions but they never looked to be on England's case. "And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more, no one dared disturb the sound of silence," as Paul and Art had it.

Nor was it simply the off-the-ball stuff. They have the second most vaunted attack in the world, which happens to contain the world's best bowler, but they rarely whistled anything past England's noses.

Throughout much of the long second-wicket stand between Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, which began in the day's first over, they resorted to a favoured strategy of denying scoring opportunities. By and large, they bowled length balls outside off stump on a benign pitch to which England's two most stoic batsmen responded by patiently leaving and waiting for the next ball. It was meat and drink.

The main reason for this muted approach was undergoing surgery in South Africa on the injured eye that forced his retirement from cricket last week. Mark Boucher's absence behind the stumps was as noticeable as was confidently predicted (though perhaps more importantly the operation performed yesterday on his lacerated eyeball appears to have been successful).

A B De Villiers, his replacement, performed adequately but he never bristled as Boucher had for the last 15 years. Boucher not only constantly encouraged and coaxed his colleagues but fed a diet of useful information to his captain, Graeme Smith, and the bowlers.

There was the odd irritable word from Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain. He muttered about Trott's long preparation rites at the crease and had a barb at Kevin Pietersen soon after his entry to the arena. "But my words like silent raindrops fell and echoed in the wells of silence." Smith, however, is much mellower at 31 than he was at 22.

De Villiers' personality is different (quieter, let us say) from Boucher's and he also had the basics of wicketkeeping to worry about without the ancillary stuff that is a key component of the craft. Cook was in his element and from a long way out his 20th Test hundred looked inevitable.

He always seems to be raising his bat to acknowledge the applause for yet another hundred, though he had actually gone 16 innings without reaching three figures, the most recent having been his monumental 294 against India at Edgbaston last year. But when he notches one, another tends to come along quickly and the 21st will probably not take another 16 innings. It may even come in this Investec Simon and Garfunkel Series.

Stats magic: First day in numbers

20 Test centuries for Alastair Cook. 22 is the England record.

13 AB De Villiers' Test dismissals as a wicketkeeper.

72.21 Average stand between Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.

20 Tests since Dale Steyn last did not take new ball.

100 This is Graeme Smith's 100th Test, only five have played more.

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