Cricket: England v South Africa

View from the Kirkstall Lane End: Both captains throw the dice

The game seemed to be petering out into a dull draw but came alive in the evening session as England went for broke

View from the Kirkstall Lane End: Both captains throw the dice

In the ten minutes between Graeme Smith’s declaration, leaving England needing 253 for victory in 39 overs, and the start of the England innings, there was much speculation among the Headingley cognoscenti as to the likely opening batsmen for the home side.

The usual pairing of Strauss and Cook would signify acceptance of the draw. But the crowd wanted aggression and a run chase, and that meant Kevin Pietersen. Popular opinion favoured KP to open with Prior, followed by Broad.

In the event, half that wish was fulfilled as Cook strode out with England’s new all-round hero, 149 runs in the first innings and four wickets, all top batsmen, in the match. There was a huge sense of anticipation, and a real belief that Pietersen could lead a final-innings run chase at Headingley, achieving batting immortality on this ground, as Bradman and Botham had done before him.

The first over from Morkel confirmed the confidence of every optimist present as Pietersen hit three fours, the third a vicious square cut in front of square. Cook kept the momentum going with five from the second over, bowled by Philander, and four from Morkel’s second.

But there was dejection for England as Pietersen went to pull the first delivery of Philander’s next over, mistimed his shot and was caught by Tahir at mid on. The jubilation of the South African team revealed a real concern that the game could be lost.

Strauss’s entry at three suggested that he and Cook would be content to bat out time. Not so. Both batsmen hit back foot fours to leg and off. They added 54 in 11 overs when Strauss was caught and bowled by occasional off-spinner Duminy. 75 for two.

Cook kept hopes alive with an innings fashioned in his one-day mode, which included a six over mid-wicket from a Duminy full toss. His dismissal for 46 by Steyn, when he was caught by Rudolph from a leading edge, brought Prior to the wicket, bristling with intent. If he could stay there, victory would be England’s.

Sixteen were added in two overs. Prior’s hunger was clear. Called for a second run by Trott, he set off with complete commitment, only to be sent back. He dived, but prolonged examination of the video evidence by the third umpire concluded that, although he had made his ground, his bat had bounced off the turf with the force of the impact. 106 for four. Prior was, understandably, livid, and flung his gloves into the crowd as he left the field.

Bell joined Trott, and the chase was over. Balls were left alone whenever possible, singles were strolled, and Steyn, bowling faster than at any time in the series, was withstood. With six overs of the final 15 remaining, at just after 7.30pm, the game was drawn. If England fail to win at Lord’s, South Africa take over as number one and the home team drop to third, behind Australia.