Cook and Collingwood set England platform
Close England 386 for 5 (Cook 118, Collingwood 91) lead South Africa 343 (Kallis 75, Smith 75) by 43 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Alastair Cook produced a performance of immense concentration to post his tenth Test century in his 50th appearance, while Paul Collingwood built on his matchsaving heroics at Centurion with a five-hour 91, as England's batsmen hauled their side into a position of authority on the third day of the Boxing Day Test at Kingsmead. By the close, Ian Bell had cashed in on the platform laid by his team-mates with an important 84-ball 55, an innings that may have lacked the pressure of the performances that preceded it, but nevertheless was invaluable in securing a healthy 43-run lead with two days of the Test to come.
The mainstay of England's performance, however, was Cook, who turned 25 on Christmas Day and celebrated with a timely performance in more ways than one. He resumed on 31 not out overnight, knowing that his performance was in the spotlight after a tally of two hundreds in the past two calendar years, but he gritted his teeth and bedded in for the long haul, grafting 11 fours in all from 263 balls, in a six-and-a-half-hour 118. He made light of the second-over dismissal of his overnight partner, Jonathan Trott, and ground out a solitary run from his first 37 deliveries of the day, a statistic that set the tone for an innings that was never pretty, but was never intended to be either.
Only once did Cook come close to being dislodged, when - on 64 - he successfully overturned an appeal for a catch at short leg off the part-time spin of JP Duminy. Replays suggested, not entirely conclusively, that the deflection had come straight off the pad, but the speed and conviction with which Cook called for the second opinion suggested that justice had been served. Either side of that alarm he was discipline personified - not least against Makhaya Ntini, another player with a point to prove, with whom he played a day-long game of cat-and-mouse, leaving the ball religiously on line as Ntini's natural angle carried all but a handful of deliveries straight across the off stump.
In the final half-hour before lunch, Cook began to open his shoulders and go for his shots, cracking Paul Harris out of the attack with a brace of fours through the off-side, before rocking back in his stance to pull Morne Morkel through square leg. And later, on 88, he latched gleefully onto a wide long-hop from the increasingly lacklustre Harris to surge into the nineties for the first time since the Lord's Test in July. Those moments aside, he dealt exclusively in pushes and deflections - including the nudge through midwicket that brought him three figures from 218 balls - as he relied on his mental strength to carry him and his team into a position from which England can still pile on the pressure in South Africa's second innings.
Cook's partner for 45 overs, including the entire second session, was Collingwood, who came to the middle at 155 for 3 following the departure of Kevin Pietersen for 31, at a stage when England were still nearly 200 runs adrift of South Africa's 343. But his calm accumulation staved off any immediate threat of a meltdown. Though neither batsman was especially easy on the eye, the rate at which they scored, at a shade over three an over, was perfectly respectable given that the halfway-mark of the match had only just been reached. Collingwood's half-century came up with a trademark nurdle off the pads in the final over before the second new ball was due, but having negotiated that with minimum fuss, he nevertheless fell short of a well-deserved century. With half-an-hour of the day still remaining, he under-edged a cut off Duminy, and was caught behind for 91.
Cook by this stage had finally been persuaded to have a rare dart outside off, as the hugely impressive Morkel came round the wicket to the left-hander, and cramped him for room as a low edge zipped through to Jacques Kallis at second slip. It was Morkel's third scalp of the innings, having already dispatched Trott to a third-ball lifter in the second over of the day, as he located a Harmison-esque combination of height, pace and bounce, and allied that to an impeccable line and length. And while Cook departed to a well-deserved ovation, he knew deep down that he had once again failed to pay heed to the mantra of his mentor Graham Gooch. "Make it a daddy," was Gooch's advice to any young batsman who gets set, but of Cook's 10 Test hundreds, only once has he exceeded 140.
Kevin Pietersen has rarely had the same problem upon reaching three figures, but today he was guilty of an even worse crime, of getting out in the thirties. He had arrived at the crease to an unexpectedly polite reception from his former home crowd, and was his usual bristling self as he sought to dominate from the word go. But, having pummelled Kallis for a pair of cover-drives, he was once again unsettled by the humble spin of Harris. On 20, he received a massive let-off when Harris slid his third ball through at a sharper pace, only for Kallis at slip to drop a sitter as the ball skewed off a hasty defensive edge. But 11 runs later, he was nailed lbw while sizing up a sweep, and the wicket-to-wicket line and the lack of appreciable spin on the delivery meant that even he realised a referral would be futile.
The final session of the day belonged to Bell, who shed the introspection that had wrecked his performance at Centurion, and responded to England's requirements with a vital injection of urgency as they closed in on that first-innings lead. It could be argued that Bell was destined to be condemned either way - he has never yet made a Test century without another batsman doing likewise, and the ease of Cook and Collingwood's performance showed that the pitch was true and that runs were there to be snaffled.
Nevertheless, they still needed to be scored, and by racing along to 65-ball half-century, he showcased the full range of strokes that have made the purists purr since he was a 16-year-old prodigy. He deposited Harris over long-on for England's only six of the day, and cashed in with five further fours, including a sweet cover-drive off Kallis. Only once was he properly troubled, right at the start of his innings, when Morkel worked up a frightening head of steam to push him back into the crease with a whistling bouncer, before rapping his pads with a full-length follow-up that was just sneaking over the stumps.
But, in perhaps the most curious captaincy decision of the day, Smith instantly hauled Morkel out of the attack after that over, and instead threw the ball to the struggling Ntini, perhaps in the belief that Bell was already ripe for the plucking. It proved to be a bad move. Bell crashed Ntini's first delivery through midwicket for four, and by the end of a chastising day, his figures were a troubling 0 for 79 off 20 overs. Come what may for the rest of this match, South Africa's selectors already know they have a dilemma awaiting come the New Year Test at Newlands.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo