Strauss cameo sets England platform
Close England 103 for 1 (Trott 17*, Cook 31*) trail South Africa 343 (Kallis 75, Smith 75) by 240 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Andrew Strauss took a leaf out of Dale Steyn's batting textbook, and launched England's innings with a 49-ball half-century - his fastest in Tests - as the second Test at Durban produced yet more dramatic momentum shifts on an eventful second day. By the time bad light brought another early end to proceedings, England had recovered from the indignity of watching South Africa's last pair, Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, add 58 carefree runs to their eventual total of 343, and reached the close in a promising position on 103 for 1.
Strauss, however, was that one England wicket to fall, bowled for 54 in the fifth over after tea by the one man to have troubled him consistently throughout this tour, Morne Morkel. Strauss had already enjoyed one massive slice of good fortune when the third umpire, Steve Davis, overturned an lbw appeal in Morkel's first over of the same session, despite inconclusive evidence of an inside-edge onto the pads, but second time around no replays were needed. Morkel's height, pace and off-stump accuracy combined to blast through Strauss's defences, and bring to an end the brightest of a series of cameos that lit up an otherwise piecemeal day's cricket.
Strauss has been in the form of his life in the past 12 months, and such was his dominance in the early part of his innings that his opening partner, Alastair Cook, was feeding on scraps at the other end, with 8 from 36 balls at the interval. Strauss crashed nine fours in his innings, including four in eight balls against a toiling Ntini, whose medium-paced offerings fed all three of Strauss's strengths - the pull, the cut and the drive. Steyn, bubbly after his 58-ball 47, provided some hairy moments with late swing from a tight new-ball line, and Morkel also found Strauss's edge with a lifter on off stump, but Jacques Kallis's rusty swingers were no match for a man in Strauss's mood, as he was drilled for two fours in consecutive balls.
Strauss's surge of intent eventually rubbed off on Cook, whose confidence began to grow before the close as he produced a succession of cathartic pulls and slog-sweeps to move to 31 not out, his best start of the series, while Jonathan Trott overcame a hostile welcome from crowd and opponents alike to reach stumps unbeaten on 17. The combined effect was to leave England handily placed after a tough day in the field, in which they were made to toil for their breakthroughs in conditions that ought to have favoured their seam attack.
South Africa had resumed their innings on 175 for 5, still shaken following the loss of three wickets in the space of five overs in a dramatic mini-session on the first evening, and when James Anderson launched an extended two-and-a-half hour session with a series of sharp inswingers in muggy conditions, England were hopeful of a swift denouement.
Instead they were thwarted by a succession of counterattacks, starting with Mark Boucher who was South Africa's principal source of momentum for the first hour of the day. Resuming on 1 not out, he clipped the first ball of the day, from Anderson, through midwicket for four, and the leg-side remained his principal scoring area throughout an aggressive 50-ball stay.
In total, Boucher scored 38 of South Africa's first fifty runs of the day, including a premeditated slog-sweep to knock Graeme Swann off his length as he entered the attack midway through the first hour. But it was eventually Swann who ended his cameo via a referred lbw, as England finally extracted some good news from the review system, after squandering all four of their attempts during last week's Centurion Test.
Boucher's departure, however, was the cue for de Villiers to step out of the shadows and take up the cudgels for his team. With sweet timing, especially off the back foot, he rode his luck to the occasional delivery that reared outside off, but cashed in on the regular occasions that England lost their length. He eventually fell for an even 50, caught behind off the second ball of Stuart Broad's new spell, having just completed his half-century from 96 balls.
Swann then set about whittling through the tail. Paul Harris attempted a sweep and was adjudged lbw for 2, a decision that was upheld on review despite protestations that the ball had brushed glove before it hit the pads, and though Morkel struck some lusty blows in a useful 23, he was extracted in the first over after tea, pinned lbw from the sixth ball of a Swann over in which every delivery had looked likely to end his stay.
That, however, was the end of Swann's fun for the day. With his eyes on his second five-wicket haul of the series, he was instead repelled by a staggeringly composed onslaught from Steyn, who farmed the strike to keep Ntini as far from the firing line as possible, while cashing in with three fours and three sixes, each in consecutive Swann overs as he opened his shoulders to clear the ropes at long-off and long-on.
England's bowlers lost their direction in the course of his onslaught, with several deliveries speared into the pads and away for four byes, but the pick of Steyn's shots was a stand-and-deliver back-foot cover-drive off Anderson that would have made de Villiers proud. But with his second Test fifty there for the taking, Anderson straightened his line and grazed a lifter off his outside edge, to give his team some welcome relief, and set the stage for Strauss's spirited, if shortlived, response.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo