Another century for Strauss before a late flurry of wickets
England 263 for 4 (Strauss 147, Key 83) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Andrew Strauss was England's hero once again as his glorious 147 - with 23 fours and a six - lifted them to 263 for 4 on the first day of the crucial fourth Test at The Wanderers. Robert Key (83) joined him in a second-wicket stand of 182 as South Africa's bowlers toiled hard on a good batting pitch, but they were lifted by three important wickets in the final session: Key, Strauss and finally Graham Thorpe without scoring.
Yet, despite those late wickets, and the loss of the unconvincing Marcus Trescothick for 16 earlier in the day, England were on top at the close - and their star was Strauss. It was his fifth century in 11 Tests, and his third in four matches against South Africa.
Strauss's innings was typically fluent and assured, brimful of rasping cover-drives and crashing cut shots. His 147 is the closest he has come to smashing through the 150 barrier in Tests but, after he sent a thickish edge to Jacques Kallis off Shaun Pollock late in the day, that milestone remains tantalisingly elusive.
Strauss played a patient game at first, before upping the tempo after lunch as he tucked in to some loose bowling. He made on-driving look easy, twice caressing the ball to the fence in quick succession to bring up his fifty, before adding another four as he steered England past the 100 mark. He brought up his own hundred off Nicky Boje with a rare single in a boundary-dominated and chanceless innings.
There was a rare mistake from Strauss in the edgy eighties, when Nicky Boje trapped him on the back foot, but it was adjudged a shade high and Strauss survived. Yet if Boje was perhaps a shade unlucky with that decision, he had only himself to blame for spilling a stinging return catch from Key later in the same over.
Key, who had 39 at the time, battled hard for his runs, showing courage against Makhaya Ntini's fiery pace, while he played Pollock patiently. And, as the pitch started to show signs of easing up, so did Key, cementing the innings as he looked to do the same to his Test place.
But Ntini, though he may have lost a few battles with Key, eventually won the war in the final session. In his first over after returning to the field for treatment on a toe injury, Ntini pitched one up and Key, driving with minimal foot movement, flashed an edge hard through to Graeme Smith at first slip. England were racing away with the first day at this point, but an obdurate partnership was finally broken with the score on 227.
South Africa took the new ball, and made it tell as Strauss fell, to make England 262 for 3. And that quickly became 263 for 4 as Thorpe, having watched his team-mates fill their boots all day, was unable to start filling his own, as he edged a short one from Ntini straight to Boeta Dippenaar at third slip. It continued Thorpe's series of two halves: he averages 4.25 in the first innings, and 175 in the second.
Trescothick had earlier helped England set up a fair platform - despite struggling to find his feet himself - but, just as he and Strauss were edging towards another fifty partnership, he fell to Dale Steyn (45 for 1). Ntini's slanting deliveries had occasionally troubled Trescothick before he edged an easy catch through to hte returning Mark Boucher. It was just reward for Steyn, who had run in with his usual aggression but unusual accuracy as he found a tight line around off stump.
South Africa worked hard all day, and eventually got their reward - but the glittering brilliance of Strauss means that it is England's star which is still in the ascendant.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.