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At Leeds, August 2-6. Drawn. Toss: England. Test debut: J. W. A. Taylor.
An absorbing Test was played out against the weird and not-so-wonderful backdrop of the Kevin Pietersen saga. Or was it the other way round? By the end - as Pietersen followed a typically dazzling 149 on Saturday afternoon with a Monday evening press conference full of cryptic self-pity - it was hard to say: the distinction between plot and subplot had become hopelessly blurred. And with the Olympic athletes down in joyful London resembling one big happy family, the dysfunctional England dressing-room felt depressingly out of kilter.
The facts, though, were these: needing victory to stand a chance of extending their sequence of Test series wins at home to a record eight, England could manage only a draw, despite briefly threatening something extraordinary on the final day, the fifth in succession to be interrupted by rain or bad light. Pietersen then announced that the Third Test at Lord's - on which England's No. 1 ranking now depended - could well be his last, following a breakdown in relations with his team-mates. When it emerged later in the week that he had sent text messages to the South Africans for which he subsequently felt the need to apologise, he was dropped anyway. Really, you couldn't make it up.
So much for the scandal. As if in deference to later events, the opening morning of the game itself had a chaotic air. Graeme Swann was omitted after 43 successive Tests, and Finn brought in as part of an all-pace attack - England's first since they lost here to South Africa in 2003. If selection was made with a poor weather forecast in mind, then Swann's absence obliged Strauss to bowl after winning the toss. And the move might have paid off, had Cook not dropped a straightforward chance at second slip (Swann's usual position) when Petersen had 29. Then, in the next over, Finn had Smith caught at first slip on six, only for umpire Steve Davis to signal dead ball because the bowler had disturbed the nonstriker's stumps with his right knee at the point of delivery.
For Finn, it was a familiar problem, though no one could remember an umpire previously denying him - or indeed anyone else - a wicket by invoking Law 23.4(b)(vi), which relates to batsmen "distracted by any noise or movement". Finn had knocked into the stumps at least three times in his first eight deliveries without interesting Davis, but Smith was now in the umpire's ear, possibly sensing a chance to unsettle his opponent. Obliged to intervene, Davis did so on Finn's ninth ball, a split second before Smith edged it low to Strauss. England were disgruntled, but they might have wondered instead why Finn had not ironed out a long-standing quirk.
Two early wickets could have changed the shape of the game - and the series - but England had to wait until the total reached 120 for their first success: Smith clipped Bresnan to short backward square, where Bell was lurking as part of an elaborate leg-side field. Amla was carelessly run out, going for a third, by Bresnan on the cover boundary, and when Kallis edged Anderson to Cook, who this time held on to a tougher chance, South Africa were 157 for three and in danger of surrendering the high ground. But Petersen remained resolute, completing a fourth Test hundred that - had it been a piece of rhythmic gymnastics - would have scored more highly for difficulty than artistic merit.
Armed with the second new ball on the first evening, England stayed in touch by striking twice: Broad's first Test wicket in 401 deliveries and nightwatchman Steyn. Pietersen's first contribution was suitably unpredictable as he removed Rudolph with his second ball shortly before lunch on day two, a sharp offbreak that immediately called into question the omission of Swann. Petersen, twice reprieved by Hawk-Eye after being given out leg-before on 119 and 124, finally fell for a Test-best 182 after Rod Tucker contrived to miss an edge behind and England asked for a review.
Eventually facing a total of 419 - around 100 more than they might have hoped after South Africa were put in - England survived unscathed until stumps, then slipped to 173 for four moments before tea on the third day. Pietersen had 43 but, when Morkel went round the wicket in the fourth over after the interval, it was as if he had woken the Kraken.
Missed on 52 by Amla at short leg, Pietersen pulled the next two balls to the midwicket fence, then drove and carved Steyn for fours. Kallis was pulled for four more, then straight driven for another. Next over, Pietersen ticked off 7,000 Test runs; six overs after that, he was celebrating his 21st century, pointedly waving his bat in the direction of his wife, Jessica, and only cursorily acknowledging those of his team-mates who had bothered to appear on the dressing-room balcony. His second fifty came from just 52 balls.
He wasn't finished yet. One murderous lofted straight-drive prompted the bowler, Steyn, to take evasive action, a` la Lillee to Botham during the other immortal Headingley innings of 149. Soon after, Pietersen dumped him back over his head for six. This was unmissable: for a while, even the West Stand stopped building beer snakes.
Watching from the other end, defending stoutly, was James Taylor, the thimble-sized 22-year-old making his Test debut in place of Ravi Bopara, who had pulled out for personal reasons. In a game-turning stand of 147, Taylor added a compact 34. It was the innings of a high-class stooge, quietly doing his bit while handing the punchlines to Pietersen. The discrepancy in the batsmen's heights, with Pietersen nearly a foot taller, merely emphasised the effect.
Pietersen completed a hundred runs in an elongated final session, but fell second ball on the fourth morning to the persevering Morkel, before Prior helped carve out a six-run lead. With more than five sessions to go, anything seemed possible, only for thunder, lightning and rain to limit South Africa's second innings before stumps to 17 overs. A draw looked inevitable, even when Pietersen again removed Rudolph - opening because Petersen had a hamstring strain - with his second ball, this time courtesy of a reviewed lbw. After lunch, Pietersen added Smith and Amla, who smacked a full toss to extra cover, at which point Broad took up the baton.
Perhaps because he had spent the previous evening watching a DVD of England's miracle win over Sri Lanka at Cardiff in 2011, when the tourists lost eight wickets in a session, and the Test, he was in the mood for a twist: summoning up an extra yard of pace, Broad embarked on a spell of five wickets in 37 balls. Anderson added Steyn and, when Smith made a second successive surprise declaration, England were set 253 in 39 overs: improbable, but maybe not by the standards of an extraordinary week.
Promoted to open, Pietersen managed three fours in seven balls before toe-ending to mid-on, and Strauss - after following him to 7,000 Test runs - hit a full toss back to Duminy. Cook departed for a resourceful 46, and it wasn't until Prior, mysteriously coming in after Strauss and Trott, was run out that England gave up hope of a win. Trott and Bell blocked for an hour before hands were shaken shortly after 7.30pm. Had the weather allowed just one more session, we might have had a thriller. In the event, with Pietersen about to face the press, the fun and games had barely begun.
Man of the Match: K. P. Pietersen. Attendance: 54,398.
Close of play: first day, South Africa 262-5 (Petersen 124, Rudolph 1); second day, England 48-0 (Strauss 19, Cook 20); third day, England 351-5 (Pietersen 149, Prior 20); fourth day, South Africa 39-0 (Rudolph 21, Smith 17).