Butcher and Hussain make it England's day
Close England 296 for 3 (Hussain 108*, E Smith 40*) v South Africa
Nasser Hussain screams his approval as he reaches his century
The more things change, the more things stay the same. After enduring the month from hell, in which England's fortunes plummeted to their lowest level in four years, it was left to two elder statesmen, Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain, to pull the team out of its slough. By the close, each had scored a century in a total of 296 for 3, and England had taken command in a Test for the first time in the series.
It was far from one-way traffic. After winning an important toss, England were reduced to 29 for 2 inside the first hour, and it appeared that a repeat of that fateful first day at Lord's was on the cards. But Butcher and Hussain, in their utterly contrasting styles, turned the game around by adding 189 for the third wicket. And by the time Ed Smith had overcome his understandable nerves to add a fluent 40 not out on debut, his namesake Graeme had a furrowed brow for the first time in three weeks.
Smith, though, is one for the future. This day belonged to two of those players who might have been consigned to the past if the recent flock of vultures had had their way.
Hussain, typically, was all grit and defiance, and in the early part of his innings it seemed that any portion of his bat would suffice to keep South Africa at bay. Butcher, on the other hand, was all cover-drives and fluency, and just as had been the case in the second innings at Lord's, he was in superb touch. He had given it away on that occasion, but today there was no let-up. When he wasn't thumping straight, he was slapping long-hops over gully for four, and he brought up his eighth Test century by whipping Andrew Hall through midwicket for his 21st four.
Butcher did have one moment of good fortune on 41, when he edged Makhaya Ntini just wide of second slip, and Ntini eventually made the breakthrough when he angled one across Butcher's bows and found a thin edge (218 for 3). But, on the whole, it was not Ntini's day. His fortunes were summed up when he came round the wicket to vary the angle to Butcher. His idiosyncratic sideways leap meant that he was warned for running on the pitch twice in as many overs, and he quickly returned to his familiar over-the-wicket line.
At the other end, Hussain grew in confidence and arrogance as his innings progressed. His off-side strokes - in particular one furious square-drive off Andrew Hall - reeked of vengeance, and he celebrated his 13th Test century with a flurry of invective directed at everyone and no-one in particular. He reached the close on 108 not out, after adding 78 with Smith, who began with a near run-out and a Chinese-cut off Pollock, but was soon booming out his already-fabled front-foot strokes like a veteran.
England dominated for two and a half sessions, but their position hadn't looked too promising in the first hour. Vaughan was pinned down by a typically accurate spell from Pollock, before squirting a low chance to Herschelle Gibbs at third slip (7 for 1), while Trescothick alternated between punchy and cagey in his 24. After surviving an intriguing duel with Ntini, he nibbled at the innocuous-looking Hall, and edged to Boucher in that now-customary fashion (29 for 2).
At that stage South Africa held all the aces, especially as Jacques Kallis had returned to the side for the first time since the death of his father. But his bowling, understandably, was rusty, while Paul Adams was unable to rediscover the form that collected him nine wickets in an innings against Kent last week. He was restricted to a stock role, and the occasional chirp at Smith from under the helmet at short leg. England took full advantage, and suddenly, this see-saw summer seems to be tipping ever-so-slightly back where it started.
England 1 Michael Vaughan (capt), 2 Marcus Tresocthick, 3 Mark Butcher, 4 Nasser Hussain, 5 Ed Smith, 6 Alec Stewart (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Ashley Giles, 9 James Kirtley, 10 Steve Harmison, 11 Jimmy Anderson.
South Africa 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 Jacques Rudolph, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Boeta Dippenaar, 6 Neil McKenzie, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Andrew Hall, 10 Paul Adams, 11 Makhaya Ntini.