Century from the opener puts England in control on the first day of the first Test.
Alastair Cook puts England in charge against Proteas
The England opener, who put on 170 with Jonathan Trott (71) after Andrew Strauss made a duck in the first over at the Oval, had gone 16 innings since turning his 19th century into a career-best 294 at Edgbaston last August.
His unbeaten 114 yesterday not only served saw the world No 1 side to 267 for three, as they defend their status against their third-placed visitors, but took Cook level with his Essex mentor and England batting coach Graham Gooch as well as teammate Kevin Pietersen in his country’s list of most prolific centurions.
Cook reached his hundred by pushing an undemonstrative single to cover off the leg-spinner Imran Tahir to complete his five-hour innings in 222 balls – having hit 11 fours and one six.
He missed few opportunities to score either, though, as he and Trott recovered impressively from the shock of Strauss’s departure.
England chose to bat and Strauss lasted four balls before he was lbw to Morne Morkel, via the Decision Review System.
Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, as well as Morkel, deserved credit for striking the first blow against his opposite number. It took some courage too, as well as good judgement, to risk a review so early in proceedings – after the umpire had turned down Morkel’s appeal.
HawkEye simulated a straightening of the angle and leg-and-middle impact, and England were under significant pressure.
Cook and Trott stayed patient, but when the South Africa bowlers dropped short they began to pick up boundaries.
Trott had looked in good touch, but he edged a drive off Morkel to AB de Villiers behind the stumps to break the stand.
His typically determined innings had nonetheless lasted 162 balls, and set the stage not just for Cook to continue but for Pietersen to up the ante with his range of stroke.
The latter was caught behind, aiming a pull at Jacques Kallis after scoring 42.
But it was still a chastening day for South Africa, who will look to bounce back quickly today with some quick wickets, with the second new ball still fresh.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE