Prince and de Villiers dominate England
Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers ground England's weary bowlers down in a magnificent partnership of 179 on the second day at Headingley, as South Africa took a crucial 119-run lead. After scraping just three wickets in two days at Lord's, there was always a concern England's bowlers would be a little jaded. And so they were today, conceding 221 runs and stealing one measly wicket. They rarely looked like taking any more, either.
Their nemesis today, as at Lord's, was Prince who struck his second successive hundred, remaining unbeaten on 134 at stumps. For all the threat posed by South Africa's two big guns - in every sense of the word - Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, Prince has sneaked up on the inside and once again irritated England with his limpet-like ability. Only occasionally did he offer even half-chances, and his partnership with AB de Villiers has all but swept England out of the contest, barring a remarkable collapse tomorrow morning.
Prince smacks of a batsman content to play within his own limitations. Once a lightning-quick fielder and aggressive batsman, his mode these days is a calmness at the crease, nullifying each bowler in turn through his combination of dogged defence and compact strokeplay. There is nothing extravagant about his method, though he dealt with the threat of Monty Panesar superbly in a premeditated attack on England's premier spinner. Two perfectly reasonable balls were deposited over Panesar's head for cleanly-struck sixes, and in doing so, Prince had scuppered Vaughan's last remaining hope.
England managed one, poor little wicket all day. James Anderson bowled with verve, as did Andrew Flintoff, but Stuart Broad looked short on pace and he never troubled either Prince or de Villiers. The fourth man in their pace attack, the controversially selected Darren Pattinson, was the surprise man to snatch England's only wicket - albeit with a leg-side full toss to Hashim Amla. Pattinson is playing his 12th first-class game and his first Test match.
As Ryan Sidebottom proved on his return to the England side last year, county cricket is an excellent training ground for Test match bowlers; an arena in which they can prepare for a sterner international examination. Pattinson is undoubtedly eligible to play for England, and his inexperience shouldn't count against him. But when Prince and de Villiers brought up their 150 partnership, it was difficult to imagine Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard or Saj Mahmood not offering a little more zing to counter South Africa's Zen calm.
De Villiers, meanwhile, shared the same resoluteness of Prince but was beaten three or four times by Anderson who never gave up all day. However, where South Africa excelled - where England struggled yesterday - was in their patience, particularly their judgement of their off stump. Only once or twice did Prince flash wildly outside his off stump to Flintoff, angling it across him, and although the partnership was one of grinding endurance, there were plenty of entertaining strokes.
Prince cut Flintoff powerfully, standing tall, but it was bettered by de Villiers' own airborne drive off the back foot which sped through cover. de Villiers is not a model of fluidity at the crease but, rather like Ramnaresh Sarwan, his balance at the crease marks him out as a fine player off both front and back foot. Strong with his wrists, he dealt comfortably with anything down the leg side - of which there was enough to keep him going all day - and midway through the afternoon South Africa had wiped off the deficit.
Prince's strokeplay down the ground was the standout of his innings, one such gift off Flintoff taking him to 99, and he celebrated his ninth hundred - and second in as many Tests - from 194 balls. de Villiers continued to favour the off-side with several exquisite strokes off the back foot as England's bowlers lacked consistency in length, and he cruised through to his 14th fifty as South Africa's lead swelled beyond 100. England were lost for inspiration.
A heavy shower fell at 5.15pm, and though the players returned for a tricky three overs an hour later, Prince and de Villiers remained intact. England's domination of the first couple of days at Lord's seem a distant, blurry memory, and South Africa look hungry to maintain their advantage.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo