Some cricket at last. Six hours of it, all in a row. Most pleasant it was, too, as the sun shone over Buffalo Park, an infrequent, almost unknown sight anywhere England have been lately.
Whether it said anything about the first Test or what the composition of the tourists' team might be, or who might play a major role in it is extremely doubtful. England batted in the morning, agreeably and efficiently on a slow pitch before declaring at 329 for 8, and bowled in the afternoon in a similar style, reducing the South Africa Invitation XI to 167 for 7.
Graeme Swann was prominent in both departments, striking a carefree 39 from 31 balls before taking 6 for 55 from 16 overs. He achieved some bounce and turn, albeit hardly venomous in either category. He took his first wicket with his second ball and his last three came in four balls. The batsmen of the South Africa Invitation XI did not deal with him adequately, but then they were being subjected to gentle barbs by England.
As Swann prepared for his hat-trick ball – having had the grandly named Sammy-Joe Avontuur stumped for a determined 61 and David Wiese caught at slip – the England wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, reminded the incoming batsman, Mangaliso Mosehle of an old truth. "Remember you should never cut an off-spinner or pat a burning dog," he said.
Mosehle was virtually doubled up with mirth as the ball narrowly sailed over the top of the stumps and was still laughing when he essayed an extravagant drive at the next ball which turned and bowled him through a vast gate.
Swann, however, pronounced himself gutted. He has never taken a hat-trick in any form of cricket at any level and knew a better opportunity will never present itself.
England will have been heartened to see him in such good order without running away with the notion that he is their ace in the pack for taking 20 South African wickets.
If South Africa is not quite a spinners' graveyard it is not fertile territory for them in Tests either. In 88 Test matches since their readmission, spinners have nine times taken five wickets or more in an innings. Compare that to the 30 occasions it has happened in 110 matches in England during the same period.
After so much inaction this was more a blowing off the cobwebs day than a dress rehearsal for the way in which England might approach the serious stuff in Centurion next week. It is a truism that professional cricketers love rain because it affords them the chance to have some illicit time off work.
But they have had too much of a good thing lately. The sights of East London – which more or less amount to the stuffed coelacanth fish in the museum and the casino in the new shopping mall, not both of which have been visited by the players – have begun to pall. The day job had begun to look most appealing again.
It was astonishing that play on the second and final day of their penultimate warm-up match before the first Test begins on 16 December, started on time. Only 12 hours before, the ground had been under water and while strictly speaking it was probably not fit it is remarkable what can be achieved when needs must. Never can a ground have been covered in so much sawdust to absorb the dampness, enough, it seemed, to require the devastation of a couple of Amazonian rain forests.
In its way, this was an important day for the tourists in their attempt to find the rhythm of long form, white-garbed, red ball cricket again. The overnight fourth-wicket partnership between Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood was soon broken and Ian Bell and Matt Prior then did much as they liked, bedding down and enjoying what amounted to a net practice in the middle. They were both retired out, Bell on 48, which is the type of score for which too often lately he has been dismissed, so perhaps the management were doing him a favour.
It remains difficult to see him being in the Test side if England decide on five batsmen, as seems likely, with Prior at number six and looking every inch like a number six. After their time was up, Swann had a high old time.
Of England's seam bowlers, Mark Davies of Durham, who in the squad as temporary cover, bowled splendidly. He was right on the button, though he might be a shade slow for the highest level. Broad needs more bowling.
Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom will both play in the two-day match starting today, anxious to show that knee and side injuries have cleared up. If Anderson is unable to bowl at full tilt, England may have to revise their plans.
Buffalo Park: Scoreboard
Tour Match Second day of two
England won toss
England First Innings
A N Cook c Bossenger b Pietersen 81
P D Collingwood c van Wyk b Ntshona 33
I R Bell retd out 48
†M J Prior retd out 44
S C J Broad b Weise 15
G P Swann not out 39
G Onions not out 13
Extras (lb1 w1 nb17) 19
Total (8 wkts dec, 78 overs) 329
Fall: 1-4, 2-22, 3-91, 4-148, 5-176, 6-259, 7-259, 8-288.
Did not bat: M Davies.
Bowling: Pietersen 18-2-71-3; Ntshona 11-0-46-1; Weise 18-2-89-2; Adams 15-3-51-0; Van Neikerk 12-0-53-0; Bossenger 4-0-18-0.
South African XI First innings
D van Wyk lbw b Swann 27
A P Agathagelou lbw b Onions 5
S E Avontuur st Prior b Swann 68
T Bavuma c Cook b Swann 6
R M van Neikerk c & b Swann 8
*W Bossenger not out 35
D Weise c Collingwood b Swann 0
†M Mosehle b Swann 0
C Pietersen not out 16
Extras (lb2) 2
Total (7 wkts, 47 overs) 167
Fall: 1-15, 2-57, 3-81, 4-100, 5-145, 6-145, 7-145.
Did not bat: R A Adams, Ntshona.
Bowling: Onions 10-2-31-1; Broad 11-2-55-0; Davies 10-4-24-0; Swann 16-2-55-6.
Umpires: S George and B G Jerling.Reuse content