Cook impresses but rain frustrates
England XI 143 for 3 (Cook 66*, Collingwood 27*) v South African Invitational XI
Rain has plagued England throughout their tour of South Africa, and it returned to remove vital time from their opening two-day fixture against a South African Invitational XI at Buffalo Park in East London. In the 36.2 overs possible, Alastair Cook made the most of his time in the middle to ease to an unbeaten 66, but the results weren't so positive elsewhere as the former Northants journeyman Charl Pietersen caused problems with the new ball.
Pietersen accounted for England's captain, Andrew Strauss, who departed in the third over for 1, and soon afterwards added the in-form Jonathan Trott, who was also caught behind for 11, as England slipped to 23 for 2. The innings was being steadied by Cook and Kevin Pietersen as they added 69 for the third wicket, but 10 minutes before the interval Pietersen, who had started to find his touch, was undone by a short ball that stopped on the pitch and David Wiese stuck out his right hand to hold a fine return catch.
Cook, though, showed the benefit of having had recent action with the Performance Squad in Pretoria. He progressed solidly and was particularly quick onto anything short with a slightly re-adjusted stance that he worked on with Graham Gooch towards the end of the home season following a tough Ashes series. He was moving freely after the prolapsed disc caused by gym work, that ruled him out of the one-dayers and led to him being released from the squad.
"It was hard to leave the squad but it has worked well for me," said Cook. "It's gone as well as it could have from the low moment when you get dropped off a squad. I still feel it [the back] and when you have two prolapsed discs it's not ideal, but as you can see I can move fine out there and it should be manageable for the next four games.
"It was a very slow pitch and very much a patience game but the ground staff have done well to even get half a pitch ready after all the rain," he added. "I'm probably a week ahead of the other batsmen. You can leave balls and not feel guilty. It does take a bit of time to relax and get the tempo of playing four-day games again."
After confirming yesterday that James Anderson would miss the first two-day game along with Ryan Sidebottom, England also left out Luke Wright meaning that Ian Bell was handed an opportunity. However, the No.3 berth he occupied during the final Ashes Test went to Trott, such is the fine impression he has made in the early days of his international career.
England's opposition consists largely of academy and Under-19 players, but Charl Pietersen was on Northamptonshire's books for two seasons, although his first-class return of five wickets at 69.33 was particularly uninspiring. However, for the Eagles in South Africa he takes his wickets at 23.08 and certainly troubled England's top order. After all the recent rain it wasn't surprising that there was something on offer for the seamers.
Strauss fell in the third over when he pushed outside off to one that bounce a touch and Trott, who began with a first-ball boundary, followed when he edged a drive to the keeper. That brought in Kevin Pietersen to face his namesake and he would have faced a loud shout for lbw first ball except for a timely no-ball, and the bulk of the scoring remained in the hands of Cook.
Pietersen's first boundary came off a friendly full-toss by Wiese, he followed it with a handsome straight drive and produced a repeat the dose against Roy Adams' medium pace. Yet, just as his strokeplay was expanding, Wiese's right hand put paid to his chances of a substantial innings.
"He's looking at it that he's spent another hour in the middle," Cook said of his team-mate. "It's a slow process when you've been out so long and he's building back up."
When play resumed after lunch the dark clouds were rapidly closing in, but there was time for Cook to reach his half-century from 96 balls alongside Paul Collingwood who continued his impressive form as he defied a slow pitch with sweet timing. However, once the thunderstorms arrived there was never any chance of more play and England will hope the skies clear on Thursday. Time is precious before the first Test.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo