July 26, 2003

Smith takes charge before rain returns to thwart South Africa

Close England 25 for 0 (Trecothick 17*, Vaughan 4*) trail South Africa 594 for 5 dec (Smith 277, Gibbs 179) by 569 runs

Graeme Smith on his way to 277, the highest Test score by a South African

The rain which washed out all of yesterday returned at tea to bring a premature end to the third day's play in the first npower Test at Edgbaston, just as a tense battle between England's openers and Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini was developing. With four sessions already lost to the weather and more heavy rain forecast for Monday, England, on the back foot after South Africa extended their first innings to 594 for 5, will fancy their chance of leaving Birmingham all square.

The day belonged to Graeme Smith, who extended his innings to 277, the highest score by any South African in Tests, and who batted with composure and confidence. For three hours he chipped and clipped runs, supremely confident off his legs and defying England's tactics of trying to stem the flow of runs and frustrate the South African batsmen into mistakes. That did partially succeed at one end, but Smith's progress was largely untroubled.

The pick of England's bowlers was Ashley Giles, who exploited the increasing turn from the bowlers' footmarks. His duel with the left-handed Smith was about as tough as it got for South Africa and provided the one evenly-matched contest of the innings. It was fitting that Giles eventually got his man. Smith should have gone earlier to Giles, but the edge flew through where first slip would have been had Nasser Hussain not long since abandoned any attacking intent. In the end Smith perished trying to clear one of three men positioned on the leg-side boundary, looking to smack his first six in the search for quick runs, but only swatting the ball straight to James Anderson square of the wicket (556 for 5).

That was the third of three wickets England got after lunch as South Africa neared the declaration. Boeta Dippenaar was the first, 15 minutes after the break. Smith had taken singles off the first ball of successive overs, leaving Dippenaar under pressure to score runs. Eventually that led to an injudicious stroke, his attempted pull off Darren Gough being well taken by Mark Butcher at midwicket (514 for 3).

Jacques Rudolph got off the mark with a crisp cover drive off Giles, but thereafter found England's stranglehold difficult to penetrate. Steve Harmison dug one in, Rudolph tried to cut him and the top edge flew straight to Darren Gough at third man (552 for 4).

England's only other success came in the first hour of the day when Giles strangled Gary Kirsten for 44. He drifted one down the leg side, Kirsten looked to flick the ball behind square and got the faintest of edges which Alec Stewart held. (438 for 2).

Towards the end of South Africa's innings England's bowlers had begun to find movement off the seam and in the air, and the grin on Shaun Pollock's face when he played and missed showed that he couldn't wait to get at England's batsmen. The declaration gave him 40 minutes before tea, and it was a fascinating contest. Pollock and Makhaya Ntini might as well have been bowling on a different wicket to that England's attack laboured on as the ball repeatedly darted past the outside edge. Pollock could have removed Marcus Trescothick in the first over, but Dippenaar dropped the most routine of chances at first slip - his embarrassment was eased slightly as Pollock had overstepped, but it was clear that the balance of the game had shifted in favour of the bowlers.

Ntini also posed problems in his early overs, beating Trescothick with three balls in his second over, but as he grew concerned about some rough ground under his run-up he lost his line and length, and Trescothick cracked three fours to ease the pressure.

Trescothick and Vaughan headed into to tea knowing that they faced a tough final session. But the rain robbed a crowd of 19,000 of what would have been high drama.

Click here for the first day's Bulletin
Click here for the first day's Wisden Verdict