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August 1, 2008
Battler of the day
Paul Collingwood's recall for this Test raised eyebrows and blood-pressures in equal measure. How could a cricketer with 92 first-class runs in nine innings (96 in ten after his forgettable first dig) justify an immediate return to the side, one match after being dropped? The reason, apart from Michael Vaughan's spurious "good bloke" comments, was that Collingwood is, by common consent, "a fighter". But how he showed it today, in a gutsy, ballsy, fingernail-extracting performance that was epitomised by an attempted leg-side flick that flew clean over extra-cover for four. At first he played with a bat-face so closed that a stump might have given him more scoring options, but he endured, then he unfurled, and finally - to the glorious acclaim of a raucous Barmy Army - he shone.
Counterattack of the day
What you see is what you get with Pietersen. His ability to produce momentum-seizing innings stems entirely from his faith in his own ability, and the arrogance to back up his plans with deeds. No-one else in the world (let alone England's embattled Test side) would have had the cojones to unfurl two switch-hit fours in three balls at a time when South Africa were being run sufficiently ragged by conventional strokeplay. And yet, Pietersen had sized the situation up perfectly - the spinner, Paul Harris, was extracting nothing from his leg-stump line, and the off-side field was vacant save for a lone ranger in the covers. Round he flipped, and the crowd went wild.
Good shot/bad shot of the day
The shot that brought about Pietersen's downfall, on the other hand, was crafted from pure adrenalin, and was the only real error of his innings. KP has never stood on ceremony in the 90s - his preferred method is to barge straight through to his century before he has had a chance to contemplate the scoreline - but today, he went for glory with a six, and scudded the shot straight into the hands of AB de Villiers at mid-on. Pietersen departed with two furious self-admonishing swipes of his bat, but 22 overs later and a thousand ego-levels lower, Collingwood showed his mighty team-mate how it should be done. A cool step down the track, a full swing of the blade, and one of the most under-stated celebrations any cricketer can ever have produced at such a seismic moment.
Anticlimax of the day
After his bowling heroics on Thursday evening, Andrew Flintoff's second innings began with a roar that outdid anything that Pietersen and Collingwood had earned for their efforts. But it was rudely interrupted by a streaker doing a handstand on a good length, and then ended after only four balls as Paul Harris pushed one through to found a thin inside-edge, and picked out Hashim Amla at short leg. The net result was a collective gasp that sucked every ounce of atmosphere out of a stadium that, at the beginning of the same Harris over, had been partying as if it was 2005 all over again.
Catch of the day
For a moment it looked as though Vaughan's sprinting, leaping, stretching snatch in the covers, to remove Mark Boucher and end South Africa's innings, was going to be the fielding highlight of the game. The skipper has been under monstrous pressure all match, and his hands have never been the safest in the team, but this was a snapshot of his commitment - a leading-from-the-front moment that was going to inspire his colleagues. Alas, Vaughan was trumped later in the day by Hashim Amla at short cover, who read his cover-drive beautifully and flung himself low and to his left to scoop the chance inches from the turf. It was a seminal moment, as Vaughan was intent on battering his way back into form. Instead he's left with 40 runs from three Tests.
Soft dismissal of the day
He's done it again, has Big-Game Belly. Some time, soon, he's going to have to shed the impression that he's not got the bottle for top-level international sport. He really ought to be flushed with confidence in this series so far - a career-best 199 on a featherbed at Lord's, and a classy 50 in the first innings here that, even though it was another example of an unfulfilled performance, was at least ended by one of the better deliveries of England's abject day's work. The stage was set for him today, and four sweetly timed boundaries hinted that a breakthrough was nigh. But then Makhaya Ntini returned to the attack, and Bell's very first shot was a horrible limp paddle-pull that flew straight up in the air for Mark Boucher to complete the catch.
Decision of the day
Aleem Dar's outrageous not-out decision against Alastair Cook. If Jacques Kallis's reprieve against Andrew Flintoff was bad, this was inexcusable. It was Andre Nel's very first ball of the innings, and it tailed in perfectly from outside off stump, struck Cook on the knee-roll plumb in front of middle, and couldn't have done anything but demolished middle-and-leg. At least it evened the score at 1-1, but it was a peculiar decision to say the least, and one that heightened the need for technology to come to the umpire's aid.