Kirsten and Zondeki transform South Africa's fortunes
Close South Africa 260 for 7 (Kirsten 109*, Zondeki 50*) v England
Gary Kirsten cuts loose as England lose their way at Headingley
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Gary Kirsten scored a fabulously well-paced 109 not out, his 18th in Tests and unquestionably one of his most valuable, to haul South Africa towards a total of some potency on the first day of the fourth npower Test at Headingley. After winning the toss and choosing to bat despite a typically cloudy Leeds morning, South Africa were reduced to 21 for 4 inside the first hour, but recovered to reach 260 for 7 by the close.
Kirsten's innings was one of three distinct parts. He came to the crease in the very first over of the morning, added just 15 runs in an attritional afternoon session, and then let rip after tea, as he was joined by the nerveless debutant Monde Zondeki, who frustrated England's bowlers with 50 not out, his maiden first-class half-century.
The pair added 118 for the eighth wicket - a new record for South Africa against England, and higher even than the 117 that Ian Botham and Graham Dilley added in their famous partnership against Australia in 1981. Between them, Kirsten and Zondeki had transformed Graeme Smith's decision to bat from reckless to bold.
The early part of the day had been all England. At the start of the series, you would have got long odds on a seam attack comprising James Kirtley, Martin Bicknell and Kabir Ali, but by the time each man had taken a wicket in his first over, South Africa were in complete disarray.
Kirtley, whose figures of 6 for 34 had wrapped up England's victory at Trent Bridge on Monday, picked up exactly where he had left off, with the huge wicket of Smith off the fourth ball of the day. Smith might have considered himself unlucky at Nottingham, but he had no alibis this time as he wafted at a wide delivery and snicked a low chance to Alec Stewart, who dived in front of first slip with all the athleticism of old (2 for 1).
Then Bicknell, with his second delivery after a ten-year absence from Tests, dismissed Herschelle Gibbs for 0. The ball left Gibbs off the seam and found the edge of his defensive prod, and Stewart held a more straightforward chance (2 for 2). Bicknell's nagging accuracy and prodigious seam movement was too much for Jacques Kallis as well, and when Michael Vaughan clung onto a screaming cover-drive in front of his nose, Bicknell's figures read 6-5-2-2 - not even the absent Shaun Pollock could have outdone him.
Kabir Ali, the newest new boy in the side, was eventually thrown the ball in the 15th over of the day, and his fifth ball was an absolute pearler - fast, full and on off stump - that Neil McKenzie had no option but to nibble to Stewart for 4.
The ten-year itch: Martin Bicknell celebrates the wicket of Jacques Kallis, his second of the morning
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But England lost their way after that. James Anderson's first spell was wayward, and while Kirsten kept his head down, Jacques Rudolph cashed in. His innings, his first half-century of the series, was particularly notable for his judicious use of the late cut, which forced the bowlers to tighten their line of attack and concentrate on his stumps. But each time they strayed too far onto his legs, he was ready with a series of well-timed clips.
Rudolph had his luck, however, with one edge off Flintoff falling just short of Mark Butcher at second slip, but on another day he might have got away with the ball that eventually dismissed him - Kabir, who had rightly had a huge shout for caught-behind off Kirsten turned down, landed one just on the line of leg stump to trap Rudolph lbw for 55 (116 for 5).
It should have been the vital breakthrough. Mark Boucher played a chancy innings of 16, before falling to Andrew Flintoff on the stroke of tea, and when Flintoff found an extra gear or ten to blast Andrew Hall from the crease for his second golden duck in four days, South Africa were 142 for 7 with just a lengthy tail to come.
Zondeki's arrival was Kirsten's wake-up call. On 28, he had sparred a Flintoff no-ball to James Anderson at backward point, but there was no more uncertainty to his strokeplay after tea. He began to take on the bowling with a series of calculated drives and hooks, and Zondeki responded by driving Flintoff down the ground for his first runs in Test cricket.
Zondeki had expected to make history later in the match, by joining Makhaya Ntini in the first all-black South African new-ball partnership. But he is becoming used to making the grand entrance - last winter in an ODI against Sri Lanka, he took a wicket with his first ball in international cricket. He reached his half-century in the final over of the day, a deft cut for four off Flintoff, and retained his composure to dead-bat the last five deliveries.
England's attack, so irresistible in the morning, had been unable to rise to South Africa's challenge. Bicknell was troubled by a dodgy hamstring and remained out of the attack until the new ball was taken, while Kirtley was off the pace after his week of nonstop excitement. They had anticipated a clean kill and a continuation of their Trent Bridge momentum. But now they have it all to do.
England 1 Marcus Trescothick, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Mark Butcher, 4 Nasser Hussain, 5 Ed Smith, 6 Alec Stewart (wk), 7 Andrew Flintoff, 8 Martin Bicknell, 9 Kabir Ali, 10 James Kirtley, 11 James Anderson.
South Africa 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Herschelle Gibbs, 3 Gary Kirsten, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Jacques Rudolph, 6 Neil McKenzie, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Andrew Hall, 9 Makhaya Ntini, 10 Monde Zondeki, 11 Dewald Pretorius.