England v South Africa: Tourists fight back on day two at The Oval
First Test, day two, The Oval
England 385 v South Africa 86-1
An inspired bowling display helped South Africa fight back on the second day of the first Test at The Kia Oval.
England appeared to be on course for a large first-innings total after resuming on 267-3, but they lost their last seven wickets for 114 runs at the hands of an impressive Proteas attack.
Dale Steyn did the early damage, dismissing Alastair Cook for 115 and Ravi Bopara for a six-ball duck, and it took a battling half-century from Matt Prior to help England reach 385. Morne Morkel finished with 4-72.
James Anderson removed South Africa opener Alviro Petersen without score in helpful conditions but, after a rain break, the ball stopped moving around and Graeme Smith (37no) and Hashim Amla (47no) carried the tourists to 86-1 by the close.
It was a notable shift in momentum - and one which leaves the match finely poised - but Prior believes England can regain the initiative.
"Alastair Cook will be furious that he gave South Africa a soft wicket to get them going, but Dale Steyn swung it both ways and showed terrific control while Jacques Kallis dismissed Ian Bell with some classic swing-bowling - it was brilliant cricket."
"I think it's very easy to think 'Oh, this was South Africa's day and we're not now in a good position'. Actually, it's a very attritional wicket - quite hard to score runs quickly," he said.
"If we get two or three early wickets we're back in the ascendancy and a very, very strong position in this Test match. We ended up with 385, and I think that's a good score on that wicket.
"A lot will depend on that first session tomorrow [Saturday]. We have the bowlers in the dressing room to do the job for us, and I'm sure we'll come out very hard and pick up a few early wickets."
When England resumed their innings South Africa bowled with pace and purpose and the hosts' first-day dominance rapidly disappeared.
Steyn, the number one-ranked bowler in the world, responded to a fruitless first day by producing a classic spell of pace bowling that exposed England's middle order to the rest of South Africa's skilful seamers.
It was a five-over spell that South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald would have been proud of, as he bowled Cook and put Bopara through the mill.
Cook had only added one run to his overnight score when he played on aiming an expansive drive.
A nervous Bopara then played two pitched-up Steyn deliveries from back in his crease and, after putting a man back on the hook, the South African paceman swung one into the Essex batsman's pads.
"Not only was it South Africa's day, they won every round. They got themselves back into the game with a wonderful display of bowling. Since the rain, I didn't see a ball move. My mum could have batted on that pitch with a stick of rhubarb."
That ferocious appeal was turned down, but there was no doubt about the next decision as a bouncer raced on to Bopara, who failed to withdraw his bat from an attempted hook and feathered a catch to stand-in wicketkeeper AB de Villiers.
Ian Bell was also outwitted when, after delivering two classic outswingers, Jacques Kallis nipped one back off the seam and clipped the bails as the batsman offered no shot.
A docile pitch suddenly looked dangerous, and Prior needed plenty of luck to shepherd the tail towards a competitive total, valuable partnerships with Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann enabling England to reach 385 all out.
When South Africa started their reply Anderson's skill soon accounted for Petersen.
As the clouds gathered the opener was expertly pinned in front on the move by an Anderson inswinger that followed a series of outswingers.
However, Smith and Amla saw South Africa to the other side of the rain break, which lasted almost two hours, and once the rain had passed conditions were more settled.
There appeared little alarm until, with the close of play approaching, Amla - on 40 - slashed at Bopara and saw Strauss fail to get more than fingertips to a sharp chance high to his left at first slip.
It may have been only a half-chance, but it was one England would have wanted to take if they are to avoid a long day in the field on Saturday, when the sun is expected to beat down on a flat, slow pitch offering only the slightest hint of turn.