Glorious Gibbs gives South Africa control
Close South Africa 362 for 4 (Kallis 32*) v England
Herschelle Gibbs celebrates his tenth Test century
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An astonishing display of non-stop shotmaking from Herschelle Gibbs blazed South Africa into command against England, on the first day of the fifth npower Test match at The Oval. Gibbs walloped 183 - 146 of which flowed in boundaries - as South Africa closed on 362 for 4. He added 227 with the equally admirable Gary Kirsten, in a performance that brought back painful memories of the first days at Edgbaston and Lord's. Back then, of course, it was Graeme Smith who took centre stage. Today it was the gallivanting Gibbs.
Gibbs was all about power and placement as he treated the crowd to his dazzling array of strokes all round the wicket. He fired a non-stop procession of classy boundaries: 35 fours and a six in all, and ten in the morning session alone. He took a particular liking to Ashley Giles, dancing down the wicket and driving him over the top at any opportunity. The shots just kept coming and he brought up his tenth Test century in the afternoon with another boundary - his 20th - when he lofted Michael Vaughan over mid-on for four. An astonishing 86 runs of his 100 came from boundaries, and he wasn't finished there, not by a long way.
Immediately after reaching his hundred, Gibbs cracked James Anderson for three fours in an over, but might have been out twice. The third of his boundaries flew straight past Mark Butcher's hands at point, and that was after Martin Bicknell had made an unconvincing attempt to catch a skyer running back at midwicket. The crowd were pleased with the entertainment, but Kirsten wasn't. He stomped down the pitch and gave Gibbs a long lecture, telling the young upstart to calm down and not throw it away. Meanwhile, amid all the mayhem, Gibbs had passed 400 runs in the series.
Next came the 150. England tried everything to stop him: short balls, full balls, but Gibbs treated it all like a load of balls as he carried on hammering anything loose to the fence. He eventually fell after five hours and twenty minutes at the crease when he heaved across the line to Giles and was bowled for a breathtaking 183 (345 for 3).
Kirsten was less explosive, but still just as effective. As England have found out down the years, once Kirsten's in, he's pretty tough to get out. He soon realised that this pitch held no demons to compare with those lurking in the Headingley track, and played with increasing freedom. He reached his fifty off 84 balls with a host of characteristic drives and slashes past point. Crucially, he also saw out a spell of short aggressive bowling from Stephen Harmison, and proved an effective foil to Gibbs as the pair batted throughout the middle session. Kirsten was eventually adjudged lbw while sweeping against Giles, even though TV replays show the ball hit him just outside the line (290 for 2).
Jacques Kallis, on the back of a double-hundred against Derbyshire, got under way with two perfectly-timed onand off-drives, as well as a huge six into the pavilion off Giles. He and Neil McKenzie almost saw out the last hour of play, but McKenzie edged Anderson to Alec Stewart in the final over to give England some joy in an otherwise depressing day.
It was another day of toil for a batch of bowlers, who appeared to be suffering from a Headingley hangover. Apart from a mindless run-out, a dubious lbw, and a tired slog from a centurion, England and the packed Oval crowd had little to shout about until McKenzie's late dismissal. Anderson was once again erratic and Andrew Flintoff was expensive, going for 73 from 14 overs. They had a few good appeals turned down, but they didn't bowl well enough. One ball was too short, the next too full. It was a familiar story.
Vaughan was forced to turn to Giles as early as the 12th over of the day, but Gibbs promptly pulled him for four to bring up the fifty. Smith's run-out temporarily lifted England's spirits back up again. Gibbs dropped Giles into the off side, and set off for a quick single. It was a risky run and Smith was slow to get out of the blocks. Vaughan, at cover, was much quicker off the mark and hurled the ball to Stewart who did the rest with Smith well short of the crease (63 for 1). It was the only sour point on what was a champagne day for Gibbs, and for South Africa. But Vaughan, on the other hand, will be left cursing England's perpetual FPS: flat pitch syndrome.