Swann song frustrates South Africa

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The Independent Online

Graeme Swann's uncomplicated counter-attack hauled England thrillingly back into a see-saw first Test against South Africa at Centurion.

The tourists had seemed sure to concede a match-defining lead when Swann and James Anderson joined forces at 242 for eight in reply to 418.

But the pair then not only put the first decision review system controversy of the tour firmly in the shade, but made a mockery of others' struggles on what had seemed an increasingly unpredictable pitch to carry their team to 356.

Swann's career-best 85 - his third half-century in his last four Test innings - dominated a century stand and wicket record against South Africa, which ended only when Anderson poked Makhaya Ntini to mid-off and was well-held by Morne Morkel.

Swann was last out when he holed out in the deep off Paul Harris but had hit 10 fours and two sixes from 81 balls against the rattled hosts, whose thoughts must have been turning to batting again long before they were eventually allowed to do so on another searingly hot day.

In four overs of their second innings, South Africa lost Ashwell Prince for a duck - bowled off an inside edge on the back foot by Anderson - as they closed on nine for one.

The hosts did not help themselves with some unwise lines of attack against England's ninth-wicket pair, and it was a moot point whether they had somehow been distracted when Stuart Broad was correctly, but dramatically, ruled lbw to part-time off-spinner JP Duminy.

Broad's gripe was with a 33-second consultation before home captain Graeme Smith gave the go-ahead to query Aleem Dar's initial call.

But there is no specific directive on the time allowed, nor was there any conclusive evidence that South Africa had unfairly benefited from back-room advice outside the playing area.

England had earlier faltered, principally against Harris (five for 123).

Variable bounce seemed to be the main hazard on a pitch which has confounded predictions from the outset.

Paul Collingwood (50), Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen each hinted at permanence but England looked in for an unequal battle after Strauss' early departure for the addition of only two to his overnight 44 to an unstoppable shooter from Makhaya Ntini.

For Ntini and the majority of the Centurion crowd, Strauss' dismissal was a moment to savour, not least because sponsors Castle were standing a pint at the bar for everyone old enough to mark the South Africa fast bowler's first wicket of his 100th Test.

Jonathan Trott was content with survival to the point of virtual hibernation, and when he finally tried to attack Harris he paid with his wicket after coming down the pitch but missing a ball which hit leg stump.

Pietersen, joined by Collingwood, cashed in on 60 balls of pure concentration when he slog-swept the next - a full-toss from Harris - for a six.

He was first to go in the afternoon, though, trying to smear an off-side drive off Morkel but instead edging on to off-stump via a crooked bat.

The later revelation that Morkel had marginally overstepped, unspotted by Dar, was an added source of regret.

England's extra batsman Ian Bell, controversially selected at the expense of a fifth bowler, managed only five runs before his off and middle stump were disturbed as he embarrassingly offered no shot at Harris.

Bell's miscalculation was born of the same mistake as Trott before him, wrongly anticipating orthodox spin from a bowler who rarely appears to produce any such thing.

Matt Prior was given no leeway by Harris and responded with a sweep which found its way straight into the hands of deep square-leg.

Collingwood deftly swept his fifth four to go with one six, bringing up a determined 87-ball half-century and passing the follow-on mark, only to go to the very next delivery when Harris finally did get one to grip, take the edge and result in a regulation slip catch.

With Broad gone soon after tea, it seemed merely a matter of how many England's tail could muster to limit the damage.

Swann, ably assisted by Anderson, dismissed that assumption and by stumps it was all to play for in a match whose momentum had been reversed, perhaps terminally.