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December 18, 2004
England 227 for 1 (Strauss 120*) trail South Africa 337 (Rudolph 93, Dippenaar 110) by 110 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A stroke-filled century from Andrew Strauss put England in control of the first Test at Port Elizabeth. By the close on the second day England had motored to 227 for 1, only 110 adrift after earlier bowling South Africa out for 337.
The Johannesburg-born Strauss prospered as the South African bowlers pitched a little too short, feeding his favourite cuts and pulls. There were 13 fours in his century, but only the last one, which took him to three figures, came in the V down the ground. Strauss, who also hit 112 in his first Test, against New Zealand at Lord's in May, is only the second man to score centuries on his home and away debuts for England: the other was the Indian prince KS Ranjitsinhji, at the end of the 19th century. The only others to do it are Harry Graham, Kepler Wessels and (earlier this year) Michael Clarke for Australia, the West Indian Lawrence Rowe, and Azhar Mahmood of Pakistan.
Strauss did the bulk of the scoring in an opening partnership of 152 with Marcus Trescothick, most of it in overcast conditions - the floodlights were powered up for the last half-hour. He has settled so well to international cricket that it was actually a shock to realise that this was his first Test innings overseas. Ominously for South Africa, Strauss's previous seven Tests, all at home last summer, ended in victory.
The last Englishman to look so instantly at home in the Test arena was ... Trescothick. He was in subdued mood here, content to let the balls missing the stumps whistle harmlessly past. There were a lot of those from Makhaya Ntini, whose natural line veers away from the left-handers, and rather too many early on from the debutant Dale Steyn, who mixed raw pace (touching 92mph at times) with eight no-balls, and retired, abashed, after his first five overs cost 33.
Trescothick posted the hundred partnership - this pair's third in only eight Tests together - with an uppish but solid cover-drive. That was about as close as South Africa came to taking a wicket before tea, after a nervous pre-lunch spell in which Ntini, in his 50th Test, clattered Strauss on the shoulder (it flew off for four leg-byes), and then had him thick-edging just short of the wicketkeeper and first slip.
For the second day running no wickets fell in the afternoon session, but the opening stand was finally broken at 152. Steyn, returning after that chastening opening spell, bent a fast yorker into Trescothick's middle stump after he had made 47 from 140 balls.
The scoring rate then slowed, a combination of the ball softening and Mark Butcher's desire to play himself in after a disappointing outing in the only warm-up match, against South Africa A. But Strauss's century lit up the gloom, and put England firmly in the box seat.
Earlier South Africa had done well to add 64 to their overnight 273 for 7. Most of the runs came from Boeta Dippenaar, who made 110 and put on 63 with Thami Tsolekile. Steve Harmison again looked short of a gallop, and after an hour's play Dippenaar slashed him to third man for his 11th four, to reach his hundred from 228 balls - his third Test century, but his first against England. That was followed by a near-repeat of Jacques Kallis's dismissal yesterday, as Harmison overpitched an attempted yorker which Dippenaar didn't seem to pick up - but this time the Harmison range-finder was fractionally off, and the ball sailed past the stumps.
The end, when it came, was swift: South Africa's last three wickets clattered for 13 runs in 19 balls shortly after the first drinks interval. Dippenaar's long innings finally came to an end when he drove at a widish one from Simon Jones - only his third ball of the day - and edged it straight to Trescothick at slip (324 for 8).
Tsolekile, after grafting to 22 from 83 balls, went in the next over, skying an attempted slog off Ashley Giles to be well caught by Andrew Flintoff, running back from slip (327 for 9). Steyn showed some batting aptitude in his first Test innings, unfurling a couple of neat off-drives for singles, then opening his shoulders and belting Giles into the stands at long-on for a satisfying six. Giles had his revenge next ball, though, having Steyn smartly caught bat-pad by Strauss at short leg.
Off hared Strauss, to prepare himself for that first innings on overseas soil. The suspicion was that, on a sluggish pitch which is likely to get progressively slower and lower, South Africa's 337 was some way short of a par score. And England's fine start has only reinforced that feeling.
Steven Lynch is the editor of Cricinfo.
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