From the first ball of the match yesterday, England's destiny was shaped. It was then, as their captain Andrew Strauss was thrillingly caught at short leg, that the fourth Test against South Africa began to slip away from them.
As the first day sizzled onward it was never to be in their grip again. A wicket down after one solitary ball became 39 for 4 and 180 all out. It was not exactly the jaw-jutting, clenched-fist, bring it on performance that had been both promised and expected.
In essence, it was an exhibition by an anxious team. Proper bowling, especially by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel – a potent combination as precise as Swiss timepieces and as hostile as Genghis Khan – was assisted by improper batting.
South Africa's innings was shortened by rain and bad light. The reply had reached 29 for 0 from 12 overs when play was called off, the openers not being entirely untroubled but, crucially, surviving intact. With four days of the match nominally remaining there is time to recover, time for England to hang on to their precious 1-0 series lead or double it.
But from hereon in this decisive Test match they will be trying to extricate themselves from a deep hole. Maybe that is the way they like it, maybe a little local difficulty brings out the best in them but it is not what Strauss would have imagined on winning the toss for the third time in the series.
The display diverted attention from England's unexpected, nay astonishing decision to drop Graham Onions, the stalwart batting hero of Centurion and Cape Town, whose eight wickets in the series have cost 45 apiece.
The stated reason was that they wanted the fresh legs of Ryan Sidebottom, presumably in the hope of swing. But Onions could consider himself unlucky because his figures do not tell the whole story of his accurate seam bowling.
Toss-winning made it crucial for England, in the modern parlance, to create scoreboard pressure. But they succumbed and in too many cases they went meekly. Few excuses can be found in the condition of the pitch. It offered bowlers reason to believe that their efforts may not entirely be in vain but it was far from the demonic piece of turf that many observers had been predicting, up from which at any moment the hand of the possessed Carrie herself might shoot.
It needed vigilance and care, above all it needed the new ball to be seen off. Neither occurred. At least three of the top order played a full part in their own downfall and nobody was more culpable than Kevin Pietersen, for whom this has become a wretched tour.
He has one innings left for redemption and while it would always be risky to back against a batsman of his resplendent talents, he now occupies that place where he does not know whether to play his natural game or amend it. By now, he might have forgotten what his natural game is.
When recovery briefly seemed possible, again through Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, it was swiftly undermined. However, England's insipid and hapless batting should not be allowed to detract from some wonderful fast bowling by Steyn and Morkel.
Steyn deservedly finished with five wickets; he is a fast bowler operating at the peak of his powers. After missing the first match with a niggling hamstring injury, he has become increasingly match-honed and the suspicion was that he would be a constant menace here. So, from his opening delivery, and that was among his more innocuous, it proved.
Strauss could hardly believe what had happened as a casual defensive flick off his pads was snaffled by Hashim Amla swooping to his right. He was the fifth England batsman to be dismissed by the first ball in a Test match – Stan Worthington was the last, Archie McLaren, Tom Hayward and Herbert Sutcliffe were the others – and the 28th in all.
Whether Jonathan Trott was unsettled by having to come in so early cannot be certain, but he looked agitated. He took his usual inordinate amount of time to prepare, he scored one four from an inside edge, swatted at a couple and then played across a full ball to be lbw.
Pietersen, gifted one four from a leg-stump half-volley, seemed to have a second in his sights when Morkel offered him a short ball. England's troubled star understandably went for the pull, made a horrible hash of it and saw it go straight to debutant Wayne Parnell at mid-on.
Shortly after, Alastair Cook, who had already been dropped once, was lbw to Morkel, stuck in his crease. He asked for a review on the justified grounds that Morkel might have bowled a no ball. Indeed the first replays indicated that no part of his raised back foot was behind the line, as the law states. Third umpire Daryl Harper, who had made some contentious third umpire decisions in Barbados last year, disagreed.
For 20 almost joyous overs Collingwood and Bell responded. Improbably, Collingwood struck two sixes but after lunch it changed again as Steyn came back to claim four more. The best of many threatening deliveries was to Bell, dismissed by one coming back at him. England insisted on going for strokes which were ill-executed. There was a sense that the match and the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy was going with them.
Key moments: How the first day unfolded
10.30am: First and (not) last
First ball of the match and Andrew Strauss is out. He clips a ball on his pads a shade carelessly to Hashim Amla at short leg.
10.39am: Trotting back to pavilion
Jonathan Trott, looking at sea for his eight-ball innings, is lbw to Morkel.
11.00am: Kev fails to pull it off
Kevin Pietersen haplessly pulls a short ball to mid-on.
12.15pm: Fifty reasons to hope
Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell reach a 50 partnership for the fifth wicket.
1.30pm: The rot returns
Collingwood restarts the rot, squared up by Ryan McLaren who has a first Test wicket on debut.
1.39pm: Bell tolls for England
England's last hope goes with Bell, who receives a probing ball from Steyn which rips through the bat and pad.
2.57pm: Swannsong is ended
Steyn takes his fifth wicket by ending Swann's token resistance and England's surrender is complete.
Fourth Test, Johannesburg (First day of five); South Africa trail England by 151 runs with 10 first-innings wickets remaining; England won toss
England: First Innings
*A J Strauss c Amla b Steyn 0, 1 ball
A N Cook lbw b Morkel 21, 31 balls 2 fours
I J L Trott lbw b Morkel 5, 8 balls 1 four
K P Pietersen c Parnell b Morkel 7, 16 balls 1 four
P D Collingwood c Duminy b McLaren 47, 61 balls 5 fours 2 sixes
I R Bell b Steyn 35, 86 balls 6 fours
†M J Prior c Boucher b Steyn 14, 25 balls 2 fours
S C J Broad c Morkel b Kallis 13, 13 balls 2 fours
G P Swann c Boucher b Steyn 27, 27 balls 3 fours 1 six
R J Sidebottom c Boucher b Steyn 0, 6 balls
J M Anderson not out 6, 13 balls
Extras (lb 2, w 3) 5
Total (47.5 overs) 180
Fall: 1-0 (Strauss), 2-7 (Trott), 3-32 (Pietersen), 4-39 (Cook), 5-115 (Collingwood), 6-133 (Bell), 7-136 (Prior), 8-148 (Broad), 9-155 (Sidebottom), 10-180 (Swann).
Bowling: Steyn 13.5-1-51-5 (w1) (6-0-26-1, 1-0-1-0, 6.5-1-24-4), Morkel 11-1-39-3 (w2) (6-1-20-3, 4-0-11-0, 1-0-8-0), McLaren 10-3-30-1 (6-2-16-0, 4-1-14-1), Parnell 3-0-18-0 (one spell), Kallis 10-3-40-1 (4-1-18-0, 6-2-22-1).
First day progress: 50: 13.5 overs, 100: 26.0 overs, Lunch: 100-4 (Bell 19 , Collingwood 44) 26.0 overs. 150: 42.5 overs. Tea: 180 (Anderson 6) 47.5 overs.
South Africa: First Innings
*G C Smith not out 12, 39 balls 1 four
A G Prince not out 15, 34 balls 2 fours
Extras (lb 1, nb 1) 2
Total (0 wkts, 12 overs) 29
To bat: H M Amla, J H Kallis, A B de Villiers, J P Duminy, †M V Boucher, R McLaren, M Morkel, D W Steyn, W D Parnell.
Bowling: Anderson 6-2-14-0 (nb1) (one spell), Sidebottom 6-2-14-0 (one spell).
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) & A L Hill (NZ).
TV replay umpire : D J Harper (Aus).
Match referee: R S Mahanama (S Lanka).Reuse content