Cricket: England v South Africa

View from the Vauxhall End: The route from 0-0 to 102-4

South Africa picked up four wickets in the evening to put themselves in a commanding situation

View from the Vauxhall End: The route from 0-0 to 102-4

South Africa's bowlers continue the dominance established by their batsmen

“You can't win a Test without taking 20 wickets.” Which, if you ignore Adelaide in 2006-7 when the bowlers were required to take just 14, is true. So how to plot a route from one to 11 is the challenge set for every captain.

That challenge becomes a little easier when a lead grows to the extent that a captain can choose how to balance the competing priorities of maximising his advantage and giving his bowlers sufficient time to secure the win. When Graeme Smith declared at tea, 252 runs ahead with 43 overs and a day to bowl out England, the consensus was that the move was bold.

Having batted for a day himself, nobody was in a better position to judge the pitch than Smith himself - one can only assume that he believed it to be as flat as it looked. His aggressive declaration and slightly defensive field placings (no third slip for Steyn, nor Philander, no silly point for Tahir and mid-on a permanent fixture) betrayed an admiration for the groundsman’s labours.

With a large hill, if not quite a mountain, of runs to work with, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander pursued a tight line and fullish length that demanded that batsmen's fatigued minds and bodies play every ball. Soon Alastair Cook was tempted by a delivery that was pitched perfectly to take advantage of any movement off its still proud seam – England's first innings centurion edged Phlander to AB de Villiers.

After five sessions in which a wicket falling seemed about as likely as Bradley Wiggins surrendering his yellow jersey, it was a shock to see so routine a dismissal.

An opener had gone for a duck in each of the previous two innings, so the panic button was still unpressed. It wouldn't be long though.
Dale Steyn, who is not at his scintillating best and down on pace (possibly as a result of a troublesome ankle), concentrated on making the batsman play as many balls as possible hoping for a lapse in concentration.

He didn't have long to wait for Jonathan Trott to reach for a ball that a fresher mind might have left and de Villiers had another victim. A terrible feeling of deja vu came over England fans of a certain age.
 
As ever, Pietersen’s arrival was a game-changer. Out went two fielders deep into the leg side and back came lengths, as South Africa sought England's most prized wicket with the short ball. It wasn't working, but that didn't mean that Pietersen was anything less than at his most skittish.

Having survived a curious steer from a Morkel lifter that was dropped by a diving Jacques Kallis where third slip should have been, in Morkel's next over, Pietersen played down the wrong line with a bat that was swung just a little from first slip to mid-on. He lost his middle stump.

Scenting blood, Imran Tahir aimed at the dusty rough outside Andrew Strauss’s off stump and found the turn that Graeme Swann had explored, but also found the disconcerting lift that is a wrist spinner's most lethal weapon. Suddenly deciding that Tahir needed to be discouraged from bowling exactly how he pleased, Strauss went for the high-risk option of a horizontal bat shot against unpredictable bounce. He holed out off a top edge to square leg.

Each of the four South African bowlers had a wicket within seven overs work – Swann and Broad had shared 86 overs without a single success. South Africa were almost half way to their objective of taking ten wickets on a still largely blameless track. They had done so through maximising the advantages bequeathed to them by Smith, Amla and Kallis – specifically, a big lead, lots of time and tired opponents.

Concentrating on the old adage that “If you miss, I hit” the South African bowlers looked like men who had enjoyed two days with their feet up. And they made England look like men who needed two days with their feet up.