LONDON - Independent Media cricket writer Stuart Hess looks at the most important factors from day one of the third Test between England and South Africa at the Oval.
After that desperately poor showing in the first Test at Lord’s, South Africa’s fielding was on point at Trent Bridge and once again at the The Oval on Thursday. Dean Elgar held a beauty diving forward at third slip to get rid of Jennings, Du Plessis snapped up a slick chance to dismiss Tom Westley, while Quinton de Kock went goal-keeper style to his right to finish off Root.
This was the kind of grind Alastair Cook relishes. While the rest were searching for the ball, he just got into line behind the thing, blocked, left, glanced, flicked, (very rarely) drove and poked his way to a fine 82 not out. England’s chances of a big first innings rest firmly on his shoulders.
The official programme contains numerous anecdotes about players and matches past at this ground. One of those of course is about Devon Malcolm’s spell against South Africa in 1994. It contains the following quote from former South African seam bowler Craig Matthews about Fanie de Villiers’ bouncer and the aftermath thereof: “(The bouncer) probably wasn’t the wisest move. You could immediately tell that Devon wasn’t a happy man. Allan Donald came up to check if he was OK and was sent away with a flea in his ear.”
The pitch, the groundsman admitted, had a lot of moisture below the surface, which probably impacted on the pace off the surface, which was slightly slow. Nevertheless, under overcast skies on a well-grassed pitch, it was very much a bowlers' day, which made Root’s decision at the toss a brave one. The ball nipped around, it swung on occasion too. More rain’s been forcecast for Friday, so expect another tough day’s work for the batsmen.