England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, The Oval, 2nd day July 20, 2012

England learn the hard reality

On a hard, unforgiving day of Test cricket, both sides came to appreciate some of the qualities that will lead to success in this series
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Well, you didn't think it would be easy, did you? If England, buoyed by a decent first day, were under any illusions about the magnitude of the task ahead, they were soon dispelled. It was not so much that South Africa staged a comeback, more that they sustained the pressure of the first day and belatedly won some reward.

This was how Test cricket used to be: hard; demanding; unforgiving. Some might even describe a first session that brought 57 runs and a day of 204 in 72.5 overs as slow. But it was a compelling day of cricket. It may not be to everyone's taste and it is true that this pitch remains rather slower than is ideal for an encounter of this magnitude, but there was a full crowd at The Oval for the second day in succession and there will be for the next two, too. The appetite for Test cricket remains strong in England.

It ended with South Africa just about the happier of the two sides. Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith, who has so far scored 37 in 37 overs, blunted the England attack, providing more evidence that the best way to prosper against England's bowling is through determination, discipline and patience. It was an example given by Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali in the UAE and Mahela Jayawardene in Sri Lanka but, in an age when many batsmen are more likely to attack than defend, not every team has the skill or the temperament for the task. It bodes well for South Africa that they have several such players.

The result is far from assured, though. With England's bowlers able to take advantage of bowling last on a pitch that will offer increasing assistance to the spinners and is showing just a few signs of some variable bounce, it would be unwise to draw too many conclusions.

"This is what we can expect all series," Matt Prior said afterwards. "It's not just going to go our way. We know that. But it would be easy to think that this was South Africa's day and we're no longer in a good position. It's a very attritional wicket. It's hard to score runs quickly. We have to hold them, put pressure on them and hope we can get wickets in clusters."

There were some lessons to be learned for both sides. Just as England will have realised that the dismissal of Kevin Pietersen, edging an attempted hook late on the first day and the over before the new ball was taken, precipitated something of a collapse - England slipped from 251 for 2 to 313 for 7 - South Africa will know that they cannot afford to squander chances in the field.

The let-offs involving Matt Prior - he was dropped on 17 and involved in mix-up that could have seen either him or Ian Bell run out - allowed England to stretch their first innings towards 400 at a time when it seemed they could be snuffed out for little over 300.

The conclusion must be that, in such an encounter, neither side can afford to give the other an inch. When Jonathan Trott and Cook were together, England had the chance to establish a match-defining total. But, with Trott squandering his platform with a loose drive and Cook, after a day of denial, finding himself drawn into pushing at one he could have left, England played a role in allowing South Africa back into the game. They will need to be even more ruthless, even more determined and even more patient if they are to win.

South Africa did not bowl so differently on day two compared to day one. The results were different, certainly - South Africa's bowlers claimed three wickets for 17 runs in the first 11 overs of the day - but that was more because England's most resilient batsmen had been removed and the others struggled with some high-quality bowling. But it was not so dissimilar to the efforts that were rendered deceptively insipid on day one by some fine batting.

Certainly Bell with the victim of some fine bowling. He had left the ball as well as Trott and Cook but, set up by two that went away from him from Jacques Kallis, he left one that came back and clipped his off bail. Such dismissals are always likely to render the batsmen a little foolish but it was a reminder that Kallis, despite a lacklustre first day, still possesses wonderful skills.

It would be premature to jump to conclusions about Ravi Bopara's future at this level. Having waited a long time for this comeback opportunity, he showed some understandable signs of nerves. His dismissal, unsure whether to hook or leave and finally doing a bit of both, was frustrating as the suspicion remains that, had he received the same delivery in a county game, he would have dealt with it comfortably.

The fact is, though, that this dismissal represented Bopara's fifth duck in 17 completed Test innings. It is an ugly record and the subsequent media attention he will suffer is unlikely to help. He has extravagant ability, though, and if England are to avoid him becoming the Hick or Ramprakash of his generation,he is worth some patience and careful handling over the coming weeks. He might also have made amends when Amla, on 38, slashed a cut to slip in Bopara's first over, but Andrew Strauss put down the chance.

"385 is a good score on that wicket," Prior insisted afterwards, "350 is a par score." Maybe. The suspicion remains that it could prove difficult to remove patient batsmen intent on accumulation and, on the second day, Smith and Amla out-Trotted Trott.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY Harmony111 on | July 21, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    @rahulcricket007: Dear Rahul, do you think that by typing your comments in CAPS your comment gets more eye balls? It may get more eye balls but it also gets a few choice words sometimes irrespective of whether your comment is palatable or not. Does the CAPS LOCK key on your keyboard not function? I request you to please take care of your cases. Pls Pls Pls.

  • POSTED BY shaantanu on | July 21, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    Front foot lunge: As of now there seems to be a big gap between No 1 n No 2.With No 2 looking more like No 1.Mate your team still needs to prove themselves outside home conditions(have you already forgotten the 3-0 thrashing in the hands of Pakistan n they were not even strong enough test team as they used to be)

  • POSTED BY shaantanu on | July 21, 2012, 17:51 GMT

    400-2:D......Poms are clueless.well done SA.No 1 seems to be slipping away

  • POSTED BY wrenx on | July 21, 2012, 17:37 GMT

    A lot of commentators seeming to forget that England have lost more tests than they have won this year. Hardly a record to make a song and dance about

  • POSTED BY screamingeagle on | July 21, 2012, 17:19 GMT

    I said it before, will say again. This series will be nicked by England. But they will lose that very important factor.confidence. Thats when it will all start going down hill. Anyway, England fans might as well get used to it. Oh wait, they are used to losing, its winning that they are trying to get used to. Sorry.

  • POSTED BY samincolumbia on | July 21, 2012, 17:18 GMT

    What happened to the greatest bowling english line up of all time and that too in their own backyard? lolz. SA B team is being mauled slowly and thoroughly by the SA A team.

  • POSTED BY tests_the_best on | July 21, 2012, 17:09 GMT

    someone mentioned something about england being beauty in the eye of the beholder a couple of days ago...oh well!

  • POSTED BY Marcio on | July 21, 2012, 16:42 GMT

    @Hammond, you sound a little unsettled. BTW about your claim England are a "great" team? Not to hammer home the obvious, but this is a good Englush team with obvious weaknesses which never take more than a few games to surface. What amazes me is how quickly Englush fans forget the regular drubbings they get whenever conditions don't suit swing bowling or steady batting techniques.

  • POSTED BY wrenx on | July 21, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    Chameleon Dobell,changing his tune once again. Providing the weather stays away, SA are on course for the first team since Pakistan to win a test in England

  • POSTED BY TheBengalTiger on | July 21, 2012, 16:31 GMT

    @FrontFootLounge- Jelous of what exactly? A team that cant even find 11 players from its own country to represent them? come on now

  • POSTED BY Harmony111 on | July 21, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    @rahulcricket007: Dear Rahul, do you think that by typing your comments in CAPS your comment gets more eye balls? It may get more eye balls but it also gets a few choice words sometimes irrespective of whether your comment is palatable or not. Does the CAPS LOCK key on your keyboard not function? I request you to please take care of your cases. Pls Pls Pls.

  • POSTED BY shaantanu on | July 21, 2012, 17:59 GMT

    Front foot lunge: As of now there seems to be a big gap between No 1 n No 2.With No 2 looking more like No 1.Mate your team still needs to prove themselves outside home conditions(have you already forgotten the 3-0 thrashing in the hands of Pakistan n they were not even strong enough test team as they used to be)

  • POSTED BY shaantanu on | July 21, 2012, 17:51 GMT

    400-2:D......Poms are clueless.well done SA.No 1 seems to be slipping away

  • POSTED BY wrenx on | July 21, 2012, 17:37 GMT

    A lot of commentators seeming to forget that England have lost more tests than they have won this year. Hardly a record to make a song and dance about

  • POSTED BY screamingeagle on | July 21, 2012, 17:19 GMT

    I said it before, will say again. This series will be nicked by England. But they will lose that very important factor.confidence. Thats when it will all start going down hill. Anyway, England fans might as well get used to it. Oh wait, they are used to losing, its winning that they are trying to get used to. Sorry.

  • POSTED BY samincolumbia on | July 21, 2012, 17:18 GMT

    What happened to the greatest bowling english line up of all time and that too in their own backyard? lolz. SA B team is being mauled slowly and thoroughly by the SA A team.

  • POSTED BY tests_the_best on | July 21, 2012, 17:09 GMT

    someone mentioned something about england being beauty in the eye of the beholder a couple of days ago...oh well!

  • POSTED BY Marcio on | July 21, 2012, 16:42 GMT

    @Hammond, you sound a little unsettled. BTW about your claim England are a "great" team? Not to hammer home the obvious, but this is a good Englush team with obvious weaknesses which never take more than a few games to surface. What amazes me is how quickly Englush fans forget the regular drubbings they get whenever conditions don't suit swing bowling or steady batting techniques.

  • POSTED BY wrenx on | July 21, 2012, 16:37 GMT

    Chameleon Dobell,changing his tune once again. Providing the weather stays away, SA are on course for the first team since Pakistan to win a test in England

  • POSTED BY TheBengalTiger on | July 21, 2012, 16:31 GMT

    @FrontFootLounge- Jelous of what exactly? A team that cant even find 11 players from its own country to represent them? come on now

  • POSTED BY Front-Foot-Lunge on | July 21, 2012, 16:08 GMT

    The envy from others runs deep when you're number 1: As England have realised over the past three years. When you whitewash teams like India & Australia, you make a lot of people jealous. Look no further than this board for more evidence of that.

  • POSTED BY rahulcricket007 on | July 21, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    WELL , WELL SA ARE 300-2 NOW . THAT REMINDS ME SOMEONE WAS COMPARING CURRENT ENGLISH BOWLERS WITH MCGRATH & WARNE CO .LOLZ

  • POSTED BY on | July 21, 2012, 15:34 GMT

    @Alexk400 It is not to hard to find a player's profile on Cricinfo. Do your research next time before posting nonsense. Full name Ravinder Singh Bopara

    Born May 4, 1985, Forest Gate, London

  • POSTED BY kh1902 on | July 21, 2012, 15:23 GMT

    Now the situation is just the way Kallis loves it. Two other South Africans have already scored hundreds and it's a flat track, meaning no pressure. England really have their work cut out.

  • POSTED BY 777aditya on | July 21, 2012, 14:40 GMT

    England surely dont look like the team that blanked out a depleted (strictly outside the subcontinental conditions, of course!) Indian team. South Africa on the other hand have a team that is extremely strong in all 3 aspects - Smith, Amla, Kallis, Devilliers, Duminy along with Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Tsotsobe in one team has got to be the DREAM TEAM teams like India can only dream about!! Boucher could have been the cherry on the cake thought! lethal, potent, awesome team this - here's hoping RSA becomes #1 soon!!!!!

  • POSTED BY Puffin on | July 21, 2012, 14:33 GMT

    Beats me why England persist with a supposedly specialist batsman at no 6, who then contributes just about nothing. Naming no names here, there have been several variations on this theme in recent times. It's more a selection error than the player's fault.

    Perhaps a rethink is in order. An extra bowler wouldn't go amiss when the opposition are only about 100 behind with only 2 wickets down on a decent pitch.

  • POSTED BY MyUserName on | July 21, 2012, 14:05 GMT

    Firdose has already said many, many times that Amla isn't fasting during the Tests. Nor is Tahir.

  • POSTED BY Divinetouch on | July 21, 2012, 13:21 GMT

    Alex400,

    Your comments clearly show you do not know the game.

    FYI- only 2 instances.

    The semi-final in the last world cup who was the MOM Who steered India in chasing down 380+ against England in a test match.

  • POSTED BY maddy20 on | July 21, 2012, 13:12 GMT

    @Front-Foto-Lunge What gap? Remember SL. Remember UAE. Till now I used to think that England are lions at home cats in Asia. Now its pretty much guaranteed that they are cats at home too provided they have a challenging opposition to contend with. As I am writing this, the scoreboard reads 213/1 , both batsmen have reached hundreds and are grinding the so called "world's best bowling attack" to dust!

  • POSTED BY Hammond on | July 21, 2012, 12:29 GMT

    South Africa are trying to pick up the pace after scoring at two runs an over for most of their innings. They may have left it too late. I expect they may lead by late tomorrow morning.

  • POSTED BY on | July 21, 2012, 12:25 GMT

    And what of Gary Kirsten? He can make good teams great. Andy Flower comes a close second behind Kirsten, but who can gainsay Kirsten's pedegree and resume? He seems capable of making any one of the good teams great, no? Last thing, England played a lot more tests than SA in the build up, but how much advantage did if give them, if any? This test's intensity is on a level England have not needed to play oflate. This Swizz trip may be that thing which decides the series.

  • POSTED BY please_concentrate on | July 21, 2012, 12:24 GMT

    @Alexk400 - well you learn something every day. I never realised that Forest Green London was part of India. Like you though I do have concerns about his ability under pressure in Test matches, although he does seem to have got over that in ODI's

  • POSTED BY Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on | July 21, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    Respect to Hashim for playing so well while fasting. Incredible determination. Man of Steel! Allah bless you!

  • POSTED BY Master01 on | July 21, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    Front foot lunge- well not really considering most of your players are not even English

  • POSTED BY Hello13 on | July 21, 2012, 11:29 GMT

    English bowlers can only perform in favourable conditions. Again we see this today

  • POSTED BY ejsiddiqui on | July 21, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge Yes, we felt that gap in UAE.

  • POSTED BY JG2704 on | July 21, 2012, 9:30 GMT

    @Alexk400 on (July 21 2012, 05:38 AM GMT)Are you trying to say Bopara is Indian born? Also his initial recall (last year) was not following on from a load of county runs. I personally hope Ravi comes good because Eng are going to persist with the 6/4/1 formation no matter what

  • POSTED BY Harry_Kool on | July 21, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    Don't worry about @front-foot-lunge, selective memory is a great thing to have. That 3-0 wipe out, effectively the first time a #1 ranked team has been whitewashed is conveniently forgotten. And his team managed to draw in SL where the Aussies won, but again, selective memory comes into play. And of course his posts after day 1 was full of bold statements that now appear very flat. Way to go, f-f-l!

  • POSTED BY Nmiduna on | July 21, 2012, 6:44 GMT

    @front-foot-lunge, i can understand your fascination, but dont get too carried away brother,two teams with best fast-bowling attacks playing the most traditional form of cricket in the home of cricket is as fascinating as a fun-filled IPL final(though in a completely different way),but dont forget, eng was beaten 3-0 against Pakistan and could only draw the series against SL who's still a rebuilding team.SA tour of SL was not as one-sided as many thought.SL won their first ever test there.even the ENG vs SL test series was 1-0.4-0 thrashing of IND was unexpected and pretty dominant by eng, but SL and PAK stil gave dem a great fight! on paper both sides may look attractive mate,but see the results(style n charisma & media hype can often mislead you!),there's not such a huge gap, and this is just the tests,eng are far from being a top one-day team outside home,SA won their ODI series against SL only just, with D/L playing against SL..too soon for conclusions bro!

  • POSTED BY Force01 on | July 21, 2012, 6:11 GMT

    Its refreshing to watch high quality test match cricket after kitschy IPL and countless inconsequential one-dayers. Expect many more see-saw battles in this series. My money is on South Africa but as George has succinctly put it, a single session can change the outcome in such a closely contested fight.

  • POSTED BY Alexk400 on | July 21, 2012, 5:38 GMT

    Ravi Bopara will never going to play an inning in pressure situations. He can bat like sachin when things do not matter. Sachin always score when things do not matter , same thing apply to Bopara. He will always score big in county and get picked and play well against weak opposition and lay big egg against South africa and Australia. If i am england do not pick indian born players against South africa and England unless they are really really special. Ravi Bopara is productive player but not in pressure situations. Ashes and against SA , it is pressure situations. Ravi Bopara can play against any team that do not have good to great fast bowlers.

  • POSTED BY Marcio on | July 21, 2012, 5:21 GMT

    Yeah, right, @Front-Foot-Lunge. A pitty England just lost 4 test matches in a row (the Pakistani supporters note that the superior Eng team lost 0-3 over there); and that SA is actually ranked behind AUS in both test and ODIs, and couldn't defeat AUS in any of the T20, ODI or test series played in SA a few months ago (draw, loss, draw). Somehow reality and you are going to have to get along a little better. The truth is that there isn't all that much between many of the teams, as both results and rankings clearly indicate.

  • POSTED BY banhire on | July 21, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    @foot foot lange, u must be joking wat gap are u talking about? Remember Ajmal and Rehman! And that was UAE

  • POSTED BY on | July 21, 2012, 4:05 GMT

    It is a shame this is not a 5-test series. Somehow, the BCCI must be blamed for it. :P

  • POSTED BY venkatesh018 on | July 21, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    It was a fantastic day of Test match cricket. Pity I had to switch between the Open golf(where both Indian golfers made the cut) and the Cricket on TV. Could both these great sporting events not have been separated by a week?

  • POSTED BY VillageBlacksmith on | July 21, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    bell as usual does not front up when the pressure mounts, he went in to his shell, the run rate plummets and the opposition bowlers get thru... with bell and bopara 5 & 6 is too weak and not tough enough.. not men for a crisis... well played Prior, he is a man for a crisis and a great counter attacker, otherwise it would have been embarrassing, yes about 50 short, something that could easily have been avoided if bell and bopara had shown some spine..

  • POSTED BY MattyP1979 on | July 20, 2012, 23:57 GMT

    Although both teams have very good batsman, you feel the bowlers are the real stars for these teams. Give me the runs even if they may be 40/50 short. As for Bopara I am desperate for the lad to do well, but he just seems to have brain fartz when he puts on 3 lions. Hope for a great 3rd day...cmon ENG.

  • POSTED BY on | July 20, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    Hashim Amla is going to be a key factor for SA. His determination is incredible, (a lot of people may not know that he was fasting while playing today) not that his personal/religious views/actions are to be included here, but being able to focus for so long and facing probably the worlds best attack, without eating or drinking, shows that what this man is made of. Respect Mr. Amla. All the best

  • POSTED BY thruthecovers on | July 20, 2012, 23:39 GMT

    This game is evenly poised- one day apiece, but SA, having come back from a fairly ordinary 1st day, will probably be the happier of the 2 sides. There is a lot of work still to be done and if Smith and Amla stays together for the majority of Day 3, ENG will be realy up against it. Losing the toss might not be that big a factor if the South African batting line-up comes to the party. In fact, it might show up ENG's failure to capitalise on a more than solid 1st Day due to SA's rustiness perhaps, even more. Here's to Amla and Smith scoring big!

  • POSTED BY Front-Foot-Lunge on | July 20, 2012, 23:35 GMT

    A cracking Test match for true cricket lovers. This is the traditional and most challenging form of the game. What a gap there is between the world's top two teams and the rest of the cricketing nations.

  • POSTED BY EngineerKhan on | July 20, 2012, 22:46 GMT

    Even if there will be an event at Mars, Dobell will somehow manage to relate it to Misbah and to me, both should retire. In UAE, it were Azhar Ali and Younis Khan if ever there was good batting from Pakistan, otherwise they banked totally on bowling in first 2 matches. Misbah and Hafeez are most overrated player in whole Pakistan. If one wants to learn how to play, one must learn from Smith, Amla or Kallis. Otherwise playing tip tip is what anyone can do

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  • POSTED BY EngineerKhan on | July 20, 2012, 22:46 GMT

    Even if there will be an event at Mars, Dobell will somehow manage to relate it to Misbah and to me, both should retire. In UAE, it were Azhar Ali and Younis Khan if ever there was good batting from Pakistan, otherwise they banked totally on bowling in first 2 matches. Misbah and Hafeez are most overrated player in whole Pakistan. If one wants to learn how to play, one must learn from Smith, Amla or Kallis. Otherwise playing tip tip is what anyone can do

  • POSTED BY Front-Foot-Lunge on | July 20, 2012, 23:35 GMT

    A cracking Test match for true cricket lovers. This is the traditional and most challenging form of the game. What a gap there is between the world's top two teams and the rest of the cricketing nations.

  • POSTED BY thruthecovers on | July 20, 2012, 23:39 GMT

    This game is evenly poised- one day apiece, but SA, having come back from a fairly ordinary 1st day, will probably be the happier of the 2 sides. There is a lot of work still to be done and if Smith and Amla stays together for the majority of Day 3, ENG will be realy up against it. Losing the toss might not be that big a factor if the South African batting line-up comes to the party. In fact, it might show up ENG's failure to capitalise on a more than solid 1st Day due to SA's rustiness perhaps, even more. Here's to Amla and Smith scoring big!

  • POSTED BY on | July 20, 2012, 23:47 GMT

    Hashim Amla is going to be a key factor for SA. His determination is incredible, (a lot of people may not know that he was fasting while playing today) not that his personal/religious views/actions are to be included here, but being able to focus for so long and facing probably the worlds best attack, without eating or drinking, shows that what this man is made of. Respect Mr. Amla. All the best

  • POSTED BY MattyP1979 on | July 20, 2012, 23:57 GMT

    Although both teams have very good batsman, you feel the bowlers are the real stars for these teams. Give me the runs even if they may be 40/50 short. As for Bopara I am desperate for the lad to do well, but he just seems to have brain fartz when he puts on 3 lions. Hope for a great 3rd day...cmon ENG.

  • POSTED BY VillageBlacksmith on | July 21, 2012, 2:54 GMT

    bell as usual does not front up when the pressure mounts, he went in to his shell, the run rate plummets and the opposition bowlers get thru... with bell and bopara 5 & 6 is too weak and not tough enough.. not men for a crisis... well played Prior, he is a man for a crisis and a great counter attacker, otherwise it would have been embarrassing, yes about 50 short, something that could easily have been avoided if bell and bopara had shown some spine..

  • POSTED BY venkatesh018 on | July 21, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    It was a fantastic day of Test match cricket. Pity I had to switch between the Open golf(where both Indian golfers made the cut) and the Cricket on TV. Could both these great sporting events not have been separated by a week?

  • POSTED BY on | July 21, 2012, 4:05 GMT

    It is a shame this is not a 5-test series. Somehow, the BCCI must be blamed for it. :P

  • POSTED BY banhire on | July 21, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    @foot foot lange, u must be joking wat gap are u talking about? Remember Ajmal and Rehman! And that was UAE

  • POSTED BY Marcio on | July 21, 2012, 5:21 GMT

    Yeah, right, @Front-Foot-Lunge. A pitty England just lost 4 test matches in a row (the Pakistani supporters note that the superior Eng team lost 0-3 over there); and that SA is actually ranked behind AUS in both test and ODIs, and couldn't defeat AUS in any of the T20, ODI or test series played in SA a few months ago (draw, loss, draw). Somehow reality and you are going to have to get along a little better. The truth is that there isn't all that much between many of the teams, as both results and rankings clearly indicate.