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July 30, 2008
Slip of the day
And to think England's progress in the first hour was positively serene. While Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss were compiling their half-century opening stand, on a track offering no extravagant bounce or sideways movement, South Africa's fielders were braced for a long hard slog of a day. But then, facing up to the irrepressible Andre Nel, Strauss hopped back into his crease to clip a single into the leg-side, and his back heel crashed into the base of middle stump. It was a freakish dismissal, but from that moment on, England's insouciance vanished, and wasn't to be seen again all day.
Untimely failure of the day
Did he feather an edge or didn't he? Nel - unsurprisingly - was in no doubt, even if the catcher, Mark Boucher, was less convinced. But no matter. The scoreboard declares that England's embattled captain, Michael Vaughan, has made a first-ball duck to take his series tally to 23 runs from four innings. Vaughan is so used to trudging off in a slough of despond that it is hard to gauge his current emotions, though it's fair to say he was unimpressed by this latest decision. The ball was angled in from wide of the crease, Vaughan prodded defensively with the air of a man still locating his off stump, and Aleem Dar did the rest.
Bemused reaction of the day
Kevin Pietersen is not a man who accepts defeat readily, and today he was so unconvinced he'd been dismissed, he had to be given out twice before finally trudging from the crease. Jacques Kallis's well-directed inswinger rapped the pad just outside the line of off stump before missing the inside-edge of Pietersen's blade as he swished loosely through midwicket. The appeal went up for lbw, then moments later a second wave of excitement swept through the South African ranks as Ashwell Prince swooped at point to catch a ballooning deflection off the pad-flap. Pietersen by now had turned his back, and so missed the moment in which umpire Steve Davis raised his finger and gestured that he'd given the decision for the catch. Most cricketers might have got the message, but not KP.
Send-off of the day
When asked on Monday what he made of Nel (and more specifically, his alter-ego, "Gunther"), Cook's answer was pretty candid: "He's an idiot," he replied, and having studied both sides of Nel's character during their time together at Essex, he was fairly well placed to provide an opinion. Sadly for Cook, his words came back to haunt him today. Despite top-scoring for England with a battling 76, the idiot had the last laugh with a rising delivery on off stump that held its line from round the wicket and was well caught by Kallis at second slip. Gunther's reaction was apoplectically triumphant, as he dropped to one knee in front of his victim, punched the air and roared in red-faced delight. Such antics might attract the interest of the match referee, but it is unlikely to stop him from doing it over and over again in the future.
Struggle of the day
Paul Collingwood's return to international action was a torturous affair, and predictably unfulfilling. Creaking visibly as South Africa teased his loosely hanging outside edge, he needed 16 balls and 33 minutes to get off the mark, and though he escaped his duck with a sweetly struck drive, that was as good as his day got. Six balls later, Kallis bent a tight outswinger around the closed face of his bat, and while Collingwood was looking hopefully through midwicket, Graeme Smith was celebrating the simplest of catches at first slip. Collingwood wore the look of a man who knows the end is nigh as he traipsed back to the dressing-room. In ten first-class innings this season, he has accumulated a meagre 96 runs.
Village performance of the day
The 77th and last over of England's innings had it all. A slogged six, a near-decapitation, and two comically inept run-outs that might as well have been transplanted from the Crossbatters' collapse against Bude Under-15s on their tour of Devon last summer. At the heart of it all was England's favourite village blacksmith, Andrew Flintoff, who decided the time was nigh to hoick some quick runs. He duly belted Makhaya Ntini over midwicket then down the ground for 10 from two balls, whereupon Ntini decided to go around the wicket. The ploy did the trick, Flintoff found himself cramped for room and in the ensuing scramble, both his remaining partners were run out from consecutive balls.
English crumb of comfort of the day
Flintoff's face as he stalked off the pitch at the end of England's innings was thunderous, so it was only a matter of time before Vaughan tossed him the ball with orders to tear onto the offensive. Sure enough, the moment came in the eighth over of South Africa's reply. With Smith on strike, Flintoff's first ball burst past his outside edge and through to the keeper, and the second took the edge and flew low to Strauss at second slip. Flintoff responded with a defiant roar as he arched his back so violently that he overbalanced and ended up on his backside. It rather ruined the moment, but symbolically it seemed apt for the day's efforts.
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