View from the Vauxhall End: England juggernaut rumbles on
The England juggernaut is all dieseled up and ready to roll
Clichés are the sign of a tired writer, an imagination numbed by repetition, an absence of description where its presence is demanded. Little will please England's Andys, Flower and Strauss, more than seeing the clichéd metaphor “England juggernaut” in reports of the first day of the battle to be top Test team in the world.
For that has been their aim from the moment the dust cleared four years ago and neither Peter Moores nor Kevin Pietersen were left standing and a new coach and captain combination assumed control.
Supported by the kind of backroom staff (in expertise and breadth of knowledge) that Team Sky are using to project Bradley Wiggins into the Yellow Jersey in Paris, England set out to execute a plan rooted in the relentless pursuit of victories through grinding down the opposition with bat and ball. It hasn't always worked, but it has worked often enough to make grizzly old observers of the game wonder if this is the best England side they have ever seen.
Needless to say (outside the subcontinent at least) come the first day of this crucial series, the juggernaut was all dieseled up and ready to roll, as Andrew Strauss called correctly and decided to bat in tricky conditions.
He was soon a victim of the DRS (well, a victim of a rare ball that would have gone on to hit the stumps from South Africa's undercooked attack), but where once England fell to 2-4 against Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, Jonathan Trott punched his first ball down the ground for four and England's supporters relaxed.
The game, of course, resists perfection, but what followed were two sessions of immaculate Test batting. The good balls were blocked, the bad balls were hit, the leave was the most important shot in the first and last hours of the day and at no point after Strauss' dismissal in the first over, were South Africa ever on top.
Trott unveiled his underused, but beautiful, extra-cover drive to supplement his usual bottom-hand punches, before a rare lapse of concentration saw him edge one to the keeper; KP, skittish and a little too eager, got in and got out to a smart piece of thinking by Jacques Kallis; and Ian Bell, looking up and not seeing Saeed Ajmal, had the crowd purring with his technical rectitiude.
And, driving the juggernaut as he has so often, was Alastair Cook. Sometimes expansive (a sixth career six amused him and Dale Steyn), always watchful, his concentration was at its fearsome peak. He also showed how he has expanded his game since assuming the ODI captaincy, punching a back-foot drive down the ground for the shot of the day – nay, the shot of the summer.
Having started by sending out their captain alone to receive the applause of the crowd on the occasion of his 100th Test, having had the confidence to hold the best bowler in the world back as a first change and having had the boost of a wicket in the first over of the day, the South Africans have been caught in the headlights of a machine that keeps on coming.
There are still 14 days left to play in this series, but the signs are ominous for the visitors who must find a way of slowing and then stopping the machine that the Andys built.