England v South Africa, 2nd npower Test, Headingley, 1st day July 18, 2008

England hit back after lowly batting display

South Africa 101 for 3 (Amla 18*, Prince 9*) trail England 203 (Pietersen 45, Steyn 4-76, Morkel 4-52) by 102 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out (England)
How they were out (South Africa)

Dale Steyn removes Kevin Pietersen © Getty Images

After last week's dull draw, this series needed igniting, and Headingley has provided it. South Africa dismissed England for a disappointingly meagre 203 before they themselves lost three quick wickets, while Hashim Amla was a hair's breadth away from joining those dismissed in the pavilion. This was Test cricket at its most compelling and frantic.

The commotion of the day took place in the 25th over of South Africa's reply, in early-evening sunshine. Amla, on 9 at the time, fended a sharp bouncer from Flintoff to Michael Vaughan at mid-off, the captain diving forward to claim what appeared to be a clean catch. However Amla was sent back by his coach, Mickey Arthur, as well as his captain Graeme Smith, forcing the umpires to refer the decision upstairs. The evidence was inconclusive, as it so often is; Vaughan scuffed his toes in annoyance and Amla shovelled Flintoff's next ball unfussily for four.

The decision will rankle with Vaughan and England overnight, and doubtless the debate surrounding the use of technology will rumble on - particular in light of England turning down an offer to use the umpire-referral system in this series. Regardless of all that, Amla survived to put South Africa's noses in front by a few whiskers, and they went to stumps trailing by 102.

Top Curve
Smart stats
  • England's 203 all out is the lowest first-innings score at Headingley since 2000, when West Indies were bowled out for 172. It's England's lowest first-innings score here since 1997, when Australia bowled them out for 172, again.
  • Dale Steyn has dismissed Michael Vaughan thrice in 56 balls in Tests. Vaughan has only scored 38 runs against him.
  • Kevin Pietersen has scored 422 runs from 492 balls at Headingley. The strike rate of 85.77 is his highest at any ground.
  • Only three times have England won a Test at Headingley after scoring less than 203 in their first innings. The last such instance was against West Indies in 1991.
  • Andrew Flintoff dismissed Graeme Smith for the fourth time in Tests. Only two bowlers - Glenn McGrath (5) and Chris Martin (6) have dismissed him more often.
Bottom Curve

The day was dominated by South Africa's bowlers, however. Morne Morkel again impressed with four wickets, mostly continuing the encouraging display he showed at Lord's. And Headingley proved a happier hunting ground for Dale Steyn, who took 4 for 76 in 18.3 angry overs. Makhaya Ntini toiled for 11 overs, but although he did remove Tim Ambrose around the wicket - his first wicket in the series - the younger bucks are making this great, tireless bowler look a little innocuous.

It was Morkel who broke through for South Africa - a little fortuitously - when Alastair Cook attempted to flick a leg-side drifter around the corner. He failed to make contact, but South Africa's raucous appeal was vindicated by Billy Bowden. The door was open, and it soon became a procession as England struggled to cope with the swing on a dank, gloomy day.

Vaughan lasted a mere seven balls when he edged Steyn's beautiful outswinger to Smith at first slip. It was the third time in five Tests that Steyn has removed the England captain through suspect defence of straight deliveries. There were no such concerns for Kevin Pietersen, however, fresh from his hundred at Lord's. Steyn fed him with an easy-paced delivery on middle-stump, flamingo-flicking it through midwicket. Two balls later, a half-tracker was dispatched into the midwicket stand for the morning's most authoritative shot for six, as the drizzle began to fall more steadily.

Strauss fell victim to the day's first piece of juicy contention when he edged a Morkel lifter to AB de Villiers at third slip. Wonderful fielder though he is, it was clear even to Strauss that de Villiers had grounded it, and despite South Africa's protestations the third umpire let Strauss carry on. After playing sensibly and cautiously - unlike nearly all his colleagues - he soon fell when he edged Morkel for 23 and England found themselves struggling on 70 for 3 at lunch.

Pietersen responded after lunch with consistently audacious strokeplay. Steyn, overpitching, was picked through cover and mid-on; Ntini, wide of the crease, was mowed through midwicket for two more boundaries. On such a spicy surface, however, it was only a matter of time before Steyn would find his length, and after being clouted for yet another four, he induced Pietersen into edging an outswinger to a gleeful Smith. Everything rested on Ian Bell's shoulders, and how would England's new No.6, Tim Ambrose, cope?

Andrew Flintoff returned to England colours, bowling with fire and accuracy © Getty Images

Not altogether wonderfully well, nibbling at Ntini from around the wicket to fall for 12. Meanwhile Bell, fresh from his magnificent 199 at Lord's, was in supreme touch, oozing class with five delicate boundaries, but like Pietersen before him, he chased a wider ball from Jacques Kallis which clattered into the stumps. England were 150 for 6 and South Africa were already into the tail.

All eyes on Flintoff. After an absence of 18 months, any hope of England scraping a challenging first innings rested on his fit-again shoulders, and he responded to a rousing reception with two muscular fours through the off-side. Another wide, tempting carrot outside his off stump from Kallis lured him into a poor stroke on his comeback, and with him went England's chances of a substantial first innings.

Whereas South Africa enjoyed plenty of swing, England couldn't find quite as much, as it became sunnier. Geoff Miller's surprise package, the 29-year-old Darren Pattinson, looked understandably overawed by the whole occasion, but James Anderson soon found his length and broke through Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith's excellent opening stand of 51 to have McKenzie smartly snaffled by Flintoff at slip. Flintoff took two overs to crank up his pace, but bowled with wonderful rhythm in his 10-over spell, removing Smith with a brutish riser from around the wicket. Kallis' miserable series continued three overs later when he inside-edged Anderson onto his stumps, and South Africa's high was tempered somewhat at 76 for 3.

It could yet be the match's defining point, Vaughan's non-catch of Amla, particularly for a batsman so keen on large scores. Much rests on Flintoff's shoulders once again if England are to make early inroads tomorrow. Welcome back, Fred.

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo