England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, The Oval, 1st day July 19, 2012

Cook hundred gives England control


England 267 for 3 (Cook 114*, Bell 10*) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Much has been made of the fact this is only a three-Test series, a contest that will determine the No. 1 team in the world - and one thing it means is that the early advantage becomes even more crucial. Through Alastair Cook's 20th Test hundred, a chanceless innings, it was England who ended the opening day in control on a healthy 267 for 3, as they aim to consolidate their top ranking.

Cook's hundred, which came from 222 balls, made him the third England batsman this year to reach the 20 Test century mark following Kevin Pietersen at Colombo and Andrew Strauss at Lord's. It is a close race between the trio to become England's leading century-maker, overtaking the 22 scored by Geoff Boycott, Wally Hammond and Colin Cowdrey, but there is little doubt that Cook, who is still only 27, should finish his career at the top of that list.

This innings ended an 11-month gap between Test hundreds for Cook, whose previous was the mammoth 294 against India at Edgbaston. He has since twice fallen for 94 - the hundreds have instead come in one-day cricket and he has often looked in wonderful touch - so it was timely to get the century count ticking over again. He played some delightful drives, with one back-foot punch through mid-off against Dale Steyn standing out, and also collected a six when he hooked Steyn during the first session.

Cook and Jonathan Trott added 170 for the second wicket as England confidently overcame the loss of Strauss to the fourth ball of the series. The pair, who have previously added stands of 392, 251 and 173, encapsulate the methodical, pragmatic and calculated cricket that has taken England to the top of the rankings. They are not the most flamboyant No. 1 team in history - South Africa, if they are to overtake them, wouldn't be either - but they have found a formula that, especially at home, is becoming mighty difficult to unpick.

That gameplan revolves around grinding opposition down; when bowling first that comes in terms of drying up runs and when batting first it means digging in for the long haul with the top three laying foundations for a more expansive middle order. It was far from revolutionary - in fact it is 'old fashioned' Test cricket - but it has proved a revelation in recent years.

What was impressive about England here was the way they responded to the early loss of Strauss. It was the third time the captain has fallen in the first over a Test and this was the team's most confident reply. The last time he faced South Africa, at Johannesburg, he was out first ball and it precipitated a poor England performance. This early departure brought back memories of Brisbane 2010, when he carved the third ball to Michael Hussey at gully and England fumbled to a total of 260 although ultimately, and famously, saved the game.

Significant credit must go to Graeme Smith and some shrewd captaincy. Even before this innings Morne Morkel had an impressive record against Strauss, who he had removed six times in Test cricket - often from around the wicket - and he started with that line of attack straight away. Morkel's second delivery was miles down the leg side but the radar was soon adjusted although Steve Davis, the umpire, did not give the decision and it required a review from Smith. It proved his second smart decision in less than an over, with the ball shown to be hitting middle and leg.

Trott, however, calmly drove his first delivery through mid-on while Cook was given too many deliveries he could leave, especially by Morkel from round the wicket. Steyn was held back from the new ball as Vernon Philander partnered Morkel and there was swing on offer, which caused the batsmen a few nervous moments without creating a chance.

Having been billed as a battle of the bowling attacks, South Africa's five-pronged unit were on the whole disappointing. The visitors had been bullish that their limited preparation would not be a factor heading into the match but Steyn, who wasn't handed the new ball, Morkel and Jacques Kallis looked short of a decent workout. There was also a suggestion that Steyn may not be fully fit as he spent time off the field having his ankle strapped.

Imran Tahir, the legspinner, did not pose a huge threat and the batsmen could sit on him while waiting for the bad ball. Both Cook and Trott were quick to latch onto anything short, with midwicket being especially profitable for Cook. It was Morkel who provided the breakthrough when he managed to pitch the ball a touch fuller and found Trott's outside edge from a rare loose drive after South Africa had gone wicketless during the afternoon session.

The day's play then developed an extra edge as Pietersen, in a week where he has never been far from the headlines, entered the fray. Morkel tried for a yorker first ball and gifted Pietersen a full toss to open his account but he played carefully to reach 3 off 20 deliveries before stepping across his stumps and flicking Philander over mid-on.

A crunching pull off Steyn was the most dismissive shot of the day, closely followed by a straight drive off Kallis, and an attempted scoop against JP Duminy suggested he felt ready to expand. But Kallis had his revenge when Pietersen gloved a bouncer to AB de Villiers two balls before the 80-over mark. It was England's poorest piece of cricket in the day, as it gave South Africa hope of making late inroads, but Cook and Ian Bell negotiated the new ball to complete a very satisfactory start for the hosts.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andrew on July 20, 2012, 23:01 GMT

    @ashes61 - I think you're being tough on Anderson. Anderson is the only genuine tailender in the line up & to expect him to do what the other 7 batsmen on Day 2 didn't really do, is a bit much. The fact is the last 4 wickets yielded 101 runs, which is historically at least, pretty good going - taking England close to safety, as it will take the Saffas probably over a day, (subject to loss of wickets), to break square with England. What hurt England was 3/13 - with Cook, Bopara & Bell falling. == == == Saffa batsmen have cemented the bowlers come back. That all being said, I still think that it is advantage England - as they have the runs on the board.

  • Peter on July 20, 2012, 16:22 GMT

    SA have bowled much better this morning & certainly more purposefully. However, although Bell got a great ball from Kallis & Broad a good one from Philander, who both deserved a wicket with those balls, I still felt that all 7 ENG wkts today were soft dismissals as far as the batsmen were concerned. In every single case it looked the wrong shot or decision by the bat. Perhaps excusing Bell, as he went for a leave but was genuinely deceived, but in every other case I thought immediately "what a soft dismissal!" Am always hard on Prior, Broad & Swann, whom I want to play positively but not loosely or unintelligently, as I feel they often do. Jimmy often chucks his wkt away, as if he wants to score as soon as he gets in rather than stay with No 10 or 9, etc. I know he can score but if I were Swann or the skipper I'd have been annoyed. Still, not for me to crtiticise - that's why they're Test players and I'm not (yet). All well set up now during this rainbreak, with ENG's nose in front.

  • Rayner on July 20, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    pitch looking really dead now.... going to be a draw?! bet a lot of people are feeling a bit silly with their comments yesterday.

  • Andrew on July 20, 2012, 13:57 GMT

    Top come back by the Saffas, although the Poms squeezed out about 20 to 30 "extra" out of the tail. It will be interesting to see how this one unfolds from here, good Pommy bowling could have the Saffas in all sorts as the pitch seems to be doing more than on Day 1.

  • John on July 20, 2012, 12:47 GMT

    @ A_Yorkshire_Lad on (July 20 2012, 10:03 AM GMT) Not sure where DB is - don't tempt fate please. There's enough to deal with already

  • John on July 20, 2012, 12:44 GMT

    @on (July 20 2012, 09:53 AM GMT) Maybe you could write to the Oval groundstaff giving your expert advice on how to prepare a pitch. Most would say they did a great job to prepare any sort of pitch after all the rain we've had , although I suppose we're to blame for the weather too?

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 12:01 GMT

    Judging by the comments below, it looks as if the whole world is against England

  • Andrew on July 20, 2012, 11:59 GMT

    By the way, those that are bagging the pitch need a bit of a lesson in pitch preparation & the impact of wet cold weather. Fact is, with the horrendous weather in England, the pitch was never going to be a great one. Tahir v Swann in the 2nd innings me thinks.

  • Andrew on July 20, 2012, 11:54 GMT

    The Saffas back in it with 4 fairly quick wickets, they need to continue to bowl well as their is a bit of sting in the Pommy tail. Saffas needed those wickets, currently I say the Saffas marginally ahead. Need to restrict the Poms to around 350. That however is only the start of what they need to do, the next is only be about 3 down by stumps.

  • Francois on July 20, 2012, 11:25 GMT

    12thUmpire Bopara just got a duck, LOL. He is not test match quality.

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