Steyn and Morkel unsettle England
Close England 241 for 7 (Prior 52*, Swann 5*) trail South Africa 291 (Kallis 108, Anderson 5-63) by 50 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn hauled South Africa right back into contention in the third Test at Newlands, and the series as a whole, claiming six wickets between them on an extraordinary day that began with a clatter of South African wickets and ended with England's lower order fighting to avoid a first-innings deficit. Despite clear-blue skies that implied a perfect day for batting, 11 wickets fell in 83.4 overs, including seven in the morning session alone, four of which fell in 17 balls to bring South Africa's innings to a swift and undignified end.
By the close, however, England were the team on the ropes, as Matt Prior struggled to locate his timing in an uncharacteristically gritty half-century, with Graeme Swann alongside him and primed to take on the second new ball in what promises to be a pivotal first session on the third morning. In reply to 291, England's deficit was a manageable 50 with three wickets still standing, but every run so far in this match has had to be chiselled, as if from Table Mountain itself.
After the first 15 minutes of the day, England believed they had stolen all the momentum by reducing their opponents from 279 for 6 to 291 all out, but in reply, the first-over dismissal of Andrew Strauss, courtesy of his nemesis, Morkel, redressed the balance dramatically. Steyn, operating as first-change after an unconvincing comeback match at Kingsmead, then announced his return to strike-bowler status with two wickets in three balls, including Kevin Pietersen for a second-ball duck, and when Morkel pinned Paul Collingwood lbw for 19 after lunch, England were in danger of conceding an insurmountable lead.
For the remainder of the afternoon session, South Africa were thwarted by Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, whose fifth-wicket stand of 60 provided further evidence of the pair's revived confidence, following their twin centuries in last week's Boxing Day Test. For nearly four hours, Cook was bloodymindedness personified as he hung back in his crease and relied on the bowlers losing patience before he did, as he left outside off time and time again, feeding almost exclusively on tucks through the leg-side whenever they straightened their line of attack.
But whereas in Durban, nothing could crack Cook's concentration, this time the tea interval unhinged his resolve. Once again it was Morkel who struck the mortal blow, in the first over of the resumption, as Cook was caught in two minds for the only time in his innings, and shovelled a half-hearted pull to Ashwell Prince at short midwicket. Bell responded to that dismissal with a classy stamp of authority, easing Steyn for three fours in the very next over, all through backward point, but just when it seemed he was ready and capable to carry the fight for his country, he gave his innings away on 48 with a loose wafted cut.
The ball, from Jacques Kallis, was a rank long-hop that was asking to be hit, but Bell's eager slap flew straight to backward point, and as he departed with a grimace of self-admonishment, England's innings had slipped back into the mire at 174 for 6. But Prior, playing a shot to almost every delivery but timing next to none, was joined by Stuart Broad, and together they ground out a 51-run stand for the seventh wicket before Steyn popped up with the new ball looming, and nicked Broad's bails with a perfect delivery that zipped through the gate.
Prior, showing great determination in a situation that did not suit his free-flowing style, reached his half-century from the penultimate ball of the day, his 95th, as he and Swann successfully fended off the new ball for 10 deliveries before the close. At that stage, England trailed by 50 with three wickets still in hand, but as England themselves had demonstrated at the start of the day, there's nothing quite like a new nut for cracking the tail in this series.
South Africa had resumed their first innings against a ball that was just 3.2 overs old, with Kallis unbeaten on 108, his 33rd Test century, having added 63 vital and confident runs for the seventh wicket with Steyn. However, Graham Onions' second delivery of the morning was simply too good - bending in towards off, it pitched, seamed, and nicked Kallis's outside edge, to send him on his way without addition, and set in motion an extraordinary sequence of events.
Next to go was Steyn, who had batted well for his overnight 26, but now fell to James Anderson's first delivery of the morning - a fat edge to Jonathan Trott at third slip, who made good ground to accept the chance to his right. Three deliveries later, Morkel hung out his bat outside off for Swann at second slip to atone for his first-morning miss with a fine low catch, diving to his right, and one over later, Anderson completed his eighth five-wicket haul as Friedel de Wet was pinned on the front pad by a nip-backer, and sent on his way for a duck despite the futile use of a review.
South Africa's collapse exceeded England's most optimistic calculations, but the challenge for Strauss and Cook was to capitalise on the chaos. Instead, it was Morkel who struck the next blow, and arguably the biggest of the morning, when his steepling bounce from his awkward round-the-wicket line once again proved too much for England's captain. Cunningly handed the first over of the innings, Morkel forced Strauss deep into his crease with a series of lifters, before pitching his sixth ball up and finding the edge of an unbalanced drive.
Strauss swished his bat in anger as he left the crease with England tottering at 2 for 1, although that scoreline was soon massaged by Cook and Trott, who batted calmly to add 34 for the second wicket in 11.4 overs. Trott provided the aggressive intent, pulling de Wet in front of square before driving Morkel handsomely through the covers, while Cook hung back in his crease and waited for the bowlers to err in line and length. However, it was the belated introduction of Steyn that swung the balance firmly back in South Africa's favour.
After an exploratory start to his spell, Steyn exploded into life in his first over after the drinks break, as Trott paid the price for his aggressive intent and inside-edged a hard-handed drive onto his off stump. Two deliveries later, Pietersen had been and gone as well - the situation was one that he habitually relishes, and the extra bounce in the surface might have suited his attacking instincts. But Steyn drew him into a loose and airy drive, and reached out with his right hand to pluck a vital return catch.
At 36 for 3 after 13 overs, South Africa were swarming, and though Collingwood's cool accumulation allowed England to reach lunch without further loss, he was swiftly extracted after the break for 19, as Morkel found a devastating full length to trap him plumb lbw. At 73 for 4, Bell's new-found mettle was under the sort of scrutiny he had avoided at Durban. Though he failed to convince all the doubters with another partially formed performance, his contribution may yet prove invaluable in the final analysis. Today, despite the sun on their backs, was no day to be a batsman.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo