x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Swann takes wind out of Proteas' sails

The off-spinner takes third five-wicket haul, but tail wags to frustrate England bowlers as the hosts manage to get past 400-run mark.

CENTURION // In the absence of Andrew Flintoff, Graeme Swann is fast becoming England's new talisman. Chirpy around the dressing room and highly regarded by his teammates, Swann is showing what he can do on the pitch too. The spinner took three more wickets on the second day of the first Test to achieve his third five-wicket haul in five-day cricket. It ensured that South Africa were bowled out for 418, ending a second consecutive frustrating day in the field.

In reply, England lost Alastair Cook for 15 but Andrew Strauss (44 not out) and Jonathan Trott (18 not out) helped them to a positive 88 for one off just 23 overs. Swann's figures of five for 110, taking him to 45 wickets in 2009, do not quite do his performance and battling spirit justice. He was right on the money all innings and never gave up despite a catalogue of misfortune going against him.

It may not have done enough to give England anything but an outside chance of victory, especially with indifferent weather forecast for the weekend, but it certainly set a marker for the rest of the season. England stuck to their task well in the face of some unbelievably negative cricket from the South African tailenders. Resuming on 262 for four, the Proteas added just 163 runs in close to 64 overs and with it severely damage their own chances of going 1-0 up.

Morne Morkel scored just 13 off 48 balls, Paul Harris 38 off 89 and Friedel de Wet a painstakingly slow 20 off 67 to leave question marks over the home side's ambitions. Jacques Kallis had earlier failed in his quest for a first Test double hundred, falling early on to James Anderson for 120, a full ball catching the edge straight into the arms of Paul Collingwood at second slip. It ended Kallis's 225-ball knock which turned out to be the quickest of South Africa's entire innings.

Swann then struck in his first over for the second day running to claim JP Duminy's wicket for 56. The left-hander was undone by some late spin, Collingwood claimed an England Test record -equalling fourth catch of the innings, and the game became delicately poised at 316 for six. It should have been even better for the visitors by lunch. Graham Onions dropped Mark Boucher on the boundary before the wicketkeeper was reprieved after Collingwood claimed a catch off the bowling of Swann - the attempted pull catching a combination of Boucher's boot and the pitch.

Swann will struggle to believe his luck so far. After being denied twice by the Umpire Decision Referral System on Wednesday, Swann appealed for an lbw against Morkel which was answered in the affirmative by Steve Davis - but HawkEye ruled it to be going marginally over. Morkel did not last long after lunch though, departing for 13, caught behind off the bowling of Onions. Swann claimed another wicket after Boucher prodded to short leg, one shy of his fifty, before the South African tail went into its shell scoring just 11 runs in 10 overs before tea.

Harris was finally out bowled by Onions for 38 before Swann claimed his five-for trapping de Wet lbw to complete the South Africa first innings. Despite another referral, Swann was not to be denied this time. Makhaya Ntini, in his 100th Test, was denied a dream wicket in England's first over of their innings after AB de Villiers dropped Alastair Cook, facing his first ball, at third slip. But it was only a partial reprieve as the Essex opener departed soon after for 15, edging behind to Boucher to give de Wet a maiden Test wicket.

Jonathan Trott survived a referred lbw decision with South Africa showing naivety with the new system too - HawkEye suggesting the ball may have clipped leg stump, not enough for Davis to give it out. Strauss looked in imperious form, with some splendid cuts, pulls and drives, to help England reduce the deficit to just 330, with their run rate of nearly four an over making a mockery of South Africa's paltry less than three.

If they continue with that positive thinking today - and with further spinning influence from Swann - anything may be possible. sports@thenational.ae