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

Smith's tribute and tactics

George Dobell and Firdose Moonda at The Oval
ESPNcricinfo presents the Plays of the Day from the first day at The Oval

Tribute of the day
Graeme Smith became just the sixth South African player to reach 100 Tests caps (99 for South Africa and one for the ICC World XI) when he led his side out at start of play. Reasoning that Smith deserved a moment to soak up the applause, his team-mates hung back as Smith ran on to the playing area and allowed the capacity crowd to show their appreciation for a fine player and a strong leader.

Tactic of the day
It had been widely anticipated in the run-up to the series that the new ball would be shared by Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. With good reason, too. Not only had the South African camp suggested that would be the case, but this was just the second time since 2005 that Steyn had played a Test without opening the bowling in the first innings. It was, therefore, something of a surprise that Morne Morkel was preferred to Steyn with the new ball. Perhaps we should not have been surprised: Morkel had dismissed Andrew Strauss six times in Tests before this game - often operating from round the wicket - and the tactic brought immediate reward when England's captain was dismissed in the first over.

Review of the day
It did not take long to feel the influence of the Decision Review System (DRS). Just four balls into the game, South Africa asked for a review of umpire Steve Davis' not out decision following an lbw appeal from Morkel and were rewarded with the wicket of Strauss, who missed a straight one. Much has been made of Smith's reputation as a slayer of England captains. After playing a hand in the demise of Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, this was not a bad way to start on his third potential victim. It was also worth noting the hush that came over the ground as the crowd waited for a replay of the delivery on the big screens around the Oval: the silence of 23,500 people at such a key moment underlined not just the anticipation this series had gained, but suggested that the DRS, when used correctly, can enhance the drama of the day for spectators.

Statistic of the day
73.60 - the average worth of a Test partnership between Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott after their stand of 170 on the first day of this game. They have now added 1,840 runs together in 27 partnerships. This was their seventh partnership in excess of 100 and they have two more in excess of 50.

Falls of the day
There were times of the day when Morkel looked like the only South African bowler who could make something happen and he knew it. After his success with the new ball, something he has not touched since Vernon Philander debuted eight Tests ago, he became Smith's go-to man when a wicket was needed. Morkel held back on the short ball but concentrated on his line and although he did not attack the stumps as much as he should have, was the most threatening of an otherwise generous attack. He put major effort into two balls, one a bouncer, the other a yorker, and both times fell on his knees onto the pitch after delivering. The second one had so much oomph behind it that Morkel ended up overstepping as well.

Not-sure-what-to-do of the day
With Cook and Trott batting as comfortably as though they were playing a club match on a Sunday afternoon and South Africa's bowlers operating as friendly giants instead of the meanies they were talked up to be, Smith had to search for ideas. He used all his frontline bowlers from both ends, asked Steyn to go from over the wicket to around to the left-hander, talked Morkel into making more liberal use of bouncers, gave Imran Tahir enough overs to create something and then ran out of things to try. At the start of the 47th over, Smith played the hand that showed he had run out of options and called on JP Duminy to bowl offspin while the rest had a break. Duminy's spell only lasted two overs, before Smith went back to the big guns, but it was turning to him in the first place that showed the South Africa's captain desperation.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nicholas on July 20, 2012, 8:53 GMT

    'Strange field placement of the day': Amla at (very) short leg under a helmet, when Pietersen was batting against Tahir. The way Pietersen plays against spinners, this is a death wish! In fact, Amla did almost get hit when Pietersen smashed Tahir for a 4 off a long-hop.

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 7:09 GMT

    As I can see that it is all about the level of confidence while batting. English batsmen have tremendous confidence and play balls on merit. Here I would like to mention that they do respect a good ball and are not afraid to hit the bad ball. On the other hand, opposition batsmen are vary of Anderson and Co. and extra cautious to hit even the freebies. This is where these fishes (English bowling company) becomes Octopus. If South Africa would have been batting here (with all due respect to them) then I am sure that Anderson, Broad and Bresnan would not have allowed opposition to even sniff at scoring. Both these teams have excellent fielders, high quality batsmen and bowlers but it will be again the level of confidence that would matter the most. Caution with aggression will be the key here. Outclass your opposition with some disciplined bowling, justification of which balls are to be hit & left and key moments while fielding will separate two teams. May we witness Best of Cricket.

  • Andrew on July 20, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    From the cricket played yesterday ... 267 runs scored and only 3 wickets ... South Africa were far from manacing with the ball and England were not running away with it with the bat neither especially after Pietersen left 16 runs in 10.2 overs ... from my perspective there was no real magic on day 1 although Cook scored a hundred ... it was at a slow pace ... If you want to dominate on a flat track ... one needs to score at 4 an over ... England were almost 100 runs shy of that mark ... but then ... it may all change on Day 2 ... If not this test is heading for a tame draw ... Tahir has been spoken about as being ineffective ... but then it is only Day 1 ...

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 5:41 GMT

    @m_rbhat [Now a days no bowler from other country seems to be effective in English condition] have u really forgotten asif and amir's spells? not going into the aftermath but it was a fine display of fast bowling in 2010, 2011 there were indian fast bowler jokers, lets see what 2012 hold for us.... i watch test matches for effective bowling only.... still remember that i used to keep sitting hours in front of television just to watch asif operate.....it was magical...... missing his skills v much....

  • Shadab on July 20, 2012, 4:26 GMT

    first day of a test series does not reflect anything... until both teams hv given a fair chance. it is batting track and if there is no rain, then SA will give same punishment to Englishmen. There is not WI playing around. (i equally like Eng and SA)

  • Dummy4 on July 20, 2012, 3:22 GMT

    England may be the no. 1 test team now but they are not as convincing as Australia in their golden days as Aussies used to score @ 4 runs per over and used to win matches within 4 days. Here England couldn't even manage 3 runs per over. This will lead to Draws only unless South Africa bat poorly.

  • Ben on July 20, 2012, 2:44 GMT

    Wow. One day in a test series and the Poms are screaming victory already. I remember the first day of the last Ashes being won easily by the Aussies, and we know how that turned out. On such a flat pitch, the Poms may regret only scored 267 on the first day. A burst of 2-3 quick wicket early and they aren't sitting so pretty. As landl47 said, Steyn doesn't have these sort of days often, and i also doubt Philander will be kept too quiet for long.

  • Jem on July 20, 2012, 0:13 GMT

    Excellent first day for England though the late loss of Pietersen took a little of the gloss off what would have been an impeccable day. I do think we need to see if SA can make serious and early inroads into the remaining English batting and then judge both sides and the pitch after England's bowlers have their go at the formidable SA batting line-up, which is strengthened by the replacement of Boucher with Duminy (though Swann may disagree!) The real boost for England is if they can bat all day tomorrow, because of the effect this should have on the batting of both Kallis (who has already bowled too many overs) and AB, who already has a suspect back - two full days keeping might just give him problems for the rest of the tour and will almost certainly lead to SA jettisoning the plan of letting him keep wicket in favour of Tsolekile, whose batting is inferior to Duminy and of course who doesn't bowl! I think tomorrow may just be the defining day of the whole series...

  • G on July 19, 2012, 22:07 GMT

    let's not get carried away. Test cricket has a habit of making people look ridiculous in the space of 10 minutes

  • michael on July 19, 2012, 20:29 GMT

    Rude awakening for Philander. No juicy pitches and flaky Australian batting to poach wickets on. Flat pitch and good batting, you need all the skills. Lets see what the master Anderson does.

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