Cook Turns Up The Heat On South Africa's Bowlers
England 267-3 (Cook 114no, Trott 71) v
First Test, The Oval, Day One
Alastair Cook hit his 20th Test century – two short of the England record – to lead his side to stumps on 267 for three on the opening day against South Africa. His second-wicket partnership of 170 with Jonathan Trott proved to be the day’s main event as it helped England recover from the early loss of their captain Andrew Strauss.
Strauss' day had begun well as he won an important toss and elected to bat on what turned out to be a slow and surprisingly dry Oval pitch. However, this good fortune wasn’t to last and he padded up to a straight delivery fourth ball from Morne Morkel. Umpire Steve Davis, perhaps concerned about the height, gave him not out initially but that was overturned on review as, for once, the Decision Review System did what it was designed to do – namely prevent controversy and not create it.
After that, South Africa struggled as England’s unglamorous top-order pair of Trott and Cook added 170 in 56.4 overs and barely looked troubled once the shine had worn off the new ball. They were perhaps helped by Graeme Smith’s perplexing decision not to hand the new ball to strike bowler Dale Steyn, instead preferring the relatively innocuous Vernon Philander. Nonetheless, they coped with what gentle swing there was and repelled the modest threat offered by Imran Tahir in the afternoon.
Cook brought up his fifty off 98 balls shortly after lunch; with Trott notching up his 11th in Tests shortly after the afternoon drinks break off 127 balls. Tea then arrived with England on 158 for one and the tourists rapidly running out of options.
Fortunately for them, Morkel struck for a second time during the fifth over after the resumption as he induced a loose drive from Trott that resulted in a thin edge through to AB de Villiers, who put in an efficient performance behind the stumps.
Kevin Pietersen then joined Cook and the pair added a further 81 for the third-wicket in 22.2 overs, with Pietersen doing the bulk of the scoring in making 42. He was there when Cook reached three figures for the first time in 2012 and gave him the customary bear hug upon him reaching the milestone. Things progressed serenely for a while after that and it looked as if the home side might survive until the new ball without further loss. However, three balls before that was due, Jacques Kallis found some life from the docile pitch and caused Pietersen to glove a bouncer to de Villiers to make it 251 for three.
Ian Bell joined Cook and took a while to get off the mark, before doing so with a sumptuous cover drive that skated across the turf. Not long after that stumps were pulled with England having had much the better of the first day, closing on 267 for three.
The first hour tomorrow will be vital for South Africa and they will want to strike at least twice while the second new ball is still relatively new, otherwise they may face another long day in the field. England, meanwhile, will be eyeing at least 550 and will then look to Graeme Swann to provide the sort of inroads that Imran Tahir was unable to on a dry and, by that stage, wearing pitch.
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