Andy will be here from 10.45am. In the meantime, read up on why Duncan Fletcher thinks getting Paul Collingwood back in the team is a good thing, how Monty can get England out of trouble and why Michael Vaughan is playing a risky game by picking a fight with the selectors.
Morning everyone. Here I am. And unusually I'm going to offer you a hard piece of information straight up: England have won the toss and will bat first.
Seeing as we seem to have established some sort of vaguely professional tone, let's roll with it: despite prematch rumours contrarywise, Graeme Smith is fit and will play.
Anyway, why are you reading this when you could be reading this? Eh?
And while I'm in the business of recommending other folks work, CMJ, unburdened of the need to file 1,000 words for The Times' inside cover every day, has been writing some lovely stuff over on Cricinfo, and his latest piece is as good a summation of England's predicament as I've yet read.
This being a Guardian OBO, and my being Andy Bull, means we're pretty much guaranteed technical hitches. Brilliantly, we've made a fine beginning with one major howler from the off: my email is knacked, so don't be surprised if your lovingly crafted witticisms and insults don't get published. Unless you're cynical enough to believe I'd lie about something like this just to spare myself a little extra work.
Scratch that then, my workshy leanings have been scuppered, and you can now send me you witterings, ravings and cuss words at firstname.lastname@example.org
You didn't think I'd be follish enough to use my personal email address did you?
South Africa look like this: GC Smith, ND McKenzie, HM Amla, JH Kallis, AG Prince, AB de Villiers, MV Boucher, M Morkel, PL Harris, A Nel, M Ntini.
And England look like this: AN Cook, AJ Strauss, MP Vaughan, KP Pietersen, IR Bell, PD Collingwood, A Flintoff, TR Ambrose, RJ Sidebottom, JM Anderson, MS Panesar.
So Nel is in for Steyn, which will spare Michael Vaughan more frowns and excuses about how he always gets the unplayable balls. Nel, as you've probably heard, revealed this week that he has a separate on-pitch persona who goes under the name of 'Gunther'. Gunther, is, reputedly, "a madman who lives in the mountains in Germany and suffers from oxygen deprivation".
Mmm. Makes me wonder if Ian Bell has an on pitch persona known as Rupert, a four-foot something Scrappy Doo type from the home counties. Monty, I feel, is more of an on-pitch Labrador, all enthusiasm and bounding energy.
1st over: England 1-0 (Cook 0 Strauss 0)Morne Morkel it is then, bowling to Andy Strauss. His third ball disappears a way down the legside, eluding both Strauss's bat and Boucher's gloves for a bye. "Are there standard lines that are created which are fed to hacks and then spread like wildfire" wonders Jonny Sultoon, the answer to which is a clear yes, yes there are, "Every journo and his dog seems to be trotting out: "Hoggy has lost his nip" - what is a "nip" and how is it measured?" Bunyip, Jonny, Hoggard has lost his Bunyip, not his nip. "'Broady is tired' - is he really? He's just had 8 days of doing nowt. 'Colly is good in the dressing room' - yeah.. thanks". To be fair these same lines are then regurgitated wholesale by pub pundits around the country.
2nd over: England 5-0 (Cook 1 Strauss 2)And at the other end, Makhaya Ntini. Gunther will have to wait his turn. Another line everyone is currently repeating is that Gunther 'loves bowling to left-handers', and if that's true you'd imagine he'll not be long out of the attack given the difficulties Morkel and Ntini have had bowling to England's opening pair of southpaws. Strauss flicks a single to fine leg, Cook cuts another past point.
3rd over: England 11-0 (Cook 6 Strauss 3)"Catch it!" goes the cry, as an inside edge flies towards gully, but Paul Harris falls flat to his left without touching the ball, rather as though he had just toppled over. "I like the idea of cricketers having alter-egos and changing personality when they cross the boundary rope..." muses Roy Probert,"Perhaps Merv Hughes was into ballet and Shostakovich... or Mike Brearley reads every edition of OK! while listening to Fiddy Cent..." Cook leans on his bat, pushing the ball past gully and away to third man for the first four of the morning.
4th over: England 11-0 (Cook 7 Strauss 3)"I'm a bit worried about the SA pace attack" writes Mohan, who must be a very sensitive soul indeed, "I would have preferred Zondeki to Nel, given that he's a different type of bowler to Ntini and Morkel. How big an impact is Steyn's absence? I would say the bowling is pretty much even now between SA and England, whereas before SA was clearly superior." And on this pitch I'd agree: it's easy to England making a big score in this first innings. A maiden from Ntini.
5th over: England 12-0 (Cook 8 Strauss 3)I was surprised myself at how hysterical the reaction to England's defeat in the last Test was. We're only two games in after all - surely we should give England a chance to lose the series before we starting foaming at the mouth and calling for Vaughan to be dropped, or Geoff Miller and Peter Moores to be replaced. That's why I appreciated the CMJ piece I linked to earlier - while others have been losing their heads over one lost match, his piece was finely balanced and in reasonable proportion to England's problems. Cook claps a square drive away for one.
6th over: England 19-0 (Cook 11 Strauss 7)"Just wondering if Michael Vaughan's alter ego is only good in the nets?" snipes Richard Graveling, whose own alter ego is very good at cheap shots. Cook crashes a rank half-tracker out to mid-wicket for three. Strauss repeats the shot, only with a little more emphasis, and fetches himself four. Again, Ntini is tending towards the filthy side with his bowling so far. "How long before the Edgbaston crowd start up a chorus of 'There's only two Andre Nels'?" asks Robert Wickes.
7th over: England 20-0 (Cook 11 Strauss 7)Every other ball bowled by Morkel is menacing, fizzing off the pitch, inbetween the ball is dying on the way through to the 'keeper. "I see Michael Vaughan's alter ego as the Viz character 'Raffles - Gentleman thug,'" suggests William Bethnel, "given to immense erudition and acts of wanton violence." Morkel switches around the wicket, and immediately looks more dangerous, one ball shading the outside edge, the other coming back in to hit the pads over the top of middle stump.
8th over: England 20-0 (Cook 12 Strauss 7)England's most authentic alter-ego is sadly missing from this match, Darren Pattinson of course being a journeyman Australian roof-tiler by day, and a journeyman English medium pacer on the pitch. "Dogs eh?" mutters Gary Naylor, "KP as King Charles spaniel? Colly as a lurcher? Sidebottom as English Shepherd? Pattinson as roadkill just off the A1."
9th over: England 20-0 (Cook 12 Strauss 7)"If Michael Vaughan does have an alter ego, how does he refer to it?" poses Ben Powell, "Michael Vaughan's Alter Ego? And how does Michael Vaughan's Alter Ego refer to him(her)self and to Michael Vaughan? It could get very confusing, but I guess that is one of the many downsides to schizophrenia." Mmm. Atherton has just come in to the commentary box and opened with the line: "Ooo, it's like a morgue round here isn't it?" referring, I thick, to the quiet atmosphere around Edgbaston rather than the cadaverous frame of Ian Botham sat alongside.
10th over: England 24-0 (Cook 16 Strauss 7)Cook pushes two runs out through extra cover, and cuts another couple away square. "I think", no, not me, but Stephen Wolstencroft, "the over-the-top reaction to the last couple of Tests is more to do with a worrying return to a strange selection policy than imagining the imminent death of English cricket. Like when Gareth Southgate was picked for the centre of England's midfield, or when John Embury was recalled at the age of 92, it seemed as if the selectors had got a bit cross-eyed."
11th over: England 31-0 (Cook 16 Strauss 12)Strauss turns his head towards the slips with feverish panic as the ball spits off his edge and ... thankfully for him ... away for four. Morkel pitches up a fuller ball in response, and bellows an lbw appeal as the batsmen take two runs, Struass safe in the knowledge he'd got a sliver of inside edge on the ball.
12th over: England 31-0 (Cook 16 Strauss 12)"Are you sure that the entire England Cricket Teams' alter egos aren't the womens team from the Horse and Hound in Ulverston?" chirrups Neil Streets. Ntini has improved for coming round the wicket, despite his famous reluctance to do so through the majority of his career, and has Cook playing, blocking, leaving six balls for a maiden over.
13th over: England 31-0 (Cook 16 Strauss 12)And here's the furious Gunther for the first time this summer, grimacing and licking his lips at the end of this run, coming around the wicket. "With Strauss's luck with umpires, I'm not sure that getting a sliver of bat on a delivery would have reassured him much that he wouldn't be given LBW" points out Craig Easterbrook, a thought I'd shared myself even as I typed the words.
14th over: England 40-0 (Cook 24 Strauss 12)Cook chops four in front of point with a flourish, and then snicks another edge towards Harris in the gully, the ball dropping just short of his cupped hands. Ntini tries a shorter ball, and Cook swats a pull away for a vicious boundary through backward square, a glorious shot.
15th over: England 41-0 (Cook 24 Strauss 12)"Drop all of these useless fools I say, begins Jon Martin, "Replace them with 11 copies of Alan Mullally. Get the writing staff to play in their stead! Hire 11 roof tilers and make them play! Then we can massively under-react when they get walloped. It'll be a nice change..." Wouldn't it though? The extent of the panic after Headingley was comically wearisome, especially given the tendency of series between these two sides to swing wildly one way and the other. Even worse, nowhere did I actually see anyone saying "you know what? England were just outplayed by a better team, simple as that." Sport can be pretty straightforward sometimes.
16th over: England 41-0 (Cook 24 Strauss 12)Here's fat Jacques Kallis. And here's the best email of the day yet from Tom Goad: "I like to think Michael Vaughan sees his alter ego as a dashing action hero which he refers to as The Vaughan Identity. And refers to his batting talents as The Vaughan Supremacy. I only await the Vaughan Ultimatum where he decrees that he'll refuse to play anymore if those nasty bowlers keep saving all their best deliveries for him."
17th over: England 46-0 (Cook 29 Strauss 13)Another authoritative back foot shot from Cook, standing up on his tip-toes and swiveling his hips as he pulls four through backward square. Gunther follows through with a snarl as Strauss mishits the next, screwing the ball away towards point as he aimed to midwicket. Gunther is warming up, and this is good cricket: he drops short, the ball shaping in towards Cook's throat, but the bat intercepts it en route, bringing England another single to mid-wicket.
18th over: England 50-0 (Cook 33 Strauss 13)Four more for Cook, glancing the ball off his pads and away through leg. A nice spot this, from Michael Abbott: "Leaving aside concerns about the current batting form of numbers 6,7 and 8, England have picked 8 batsmen with test hundreds to their name. When was the last time that happened? When Alan Knott was in the team?" A cookie to the first right answer.
19th over: England 51-0 (Cook 33 Strauss 14)Strauss, so lethargic this morning that he's making Cook like Slater, adds one more to his score.
20th over: England 51-0 (Cook 33 Strauss 14)Shaun Pollock points out that the English press - myself included - have been misspelling the name of Nel's alter ego (presumably a dangerous thing to do), and that it's Gunter, without an 'h'. What he fails to realise is that English journalists always seem to know better when it comes to spelling names, even if the player in question insists otherwise. This point was neatly made last year by Sreesanth / Sree Santh / Shivnakumaran Sreesanth / S Sreesanth. this has been true for years: when Sonny Ramdin came to England in 1950 he was bemused to find that everyone insisted on giving him the initials "KT" for no obvious reason.
21st over: England 63-0 (Cook 39 Strauss 19)Strauss squirts a top edge to fine leg, misplaying Nel's bouncer. A single puts Cook on strike and he clips a couple past cover. He follows it with another fine pull for four more. "Time for Nel to give up on the bouncer," muses Goldenhair Gower. Go and have a look at this will you? What a goddamn farce.
22nd over: England 68-0 (Cook 43 Strauss 19)"I think perhaps the last time England had eight centurions would be 1973 at Illingworth's last test against the Windies at Lords. The eight were Boycott, Amiss, Luckhurst, Hayes, Fletcher, Grieg, Knott and Illingworth." In his desire for the satisfyingly obscure, James Smith has overlooked the obvious: "By the end of the 2005 Ashes Oval match, England has 8 centurions in the side, after Pietersen got 150, with Collingwood brought in to replace Simon Jones." Owen Bailey there, getting his grubby mitts on the Spunkmeyer. Fou more to Cook, edged through the slips.
WICKET! Strauss 20 hit wicket b Nel WICKET! Vaughan 0 c Boucher b Nel (23rd over: England 68-2 Cook 43 Pietersen 0)Calamity! Strauss plays a perfectly decent leg glance, but hops back as he does so, the heel of his back foot landing on the base of the stumps and tumbling the bails to the turf. Fool. South Africa can't quite believe their luck. And he's out first ball! Vaughan goes for a golden duck! He can't believe it! Ridiculous. He propped forward and the ball slid off (or even past?) his edge and on into Boucher's gloves. He was seriously unhappy about it, staring with increasingly typical disgust and disbelief at the anything he can possibly blame: the wicket, the close fielders, the bowler, the umpire, the balcony. KP survives the hat-trick ball.
24th over: England 72-2 (Cook 44 Pietersen 3)Well, he was warned by Geoff Miller before this Test that he had to score some runs. Poor Vaughan: Sky's replays suggest that he didn't hit it, but their snickometer suggests he did. Eitherway it must have been the thinest of possible edges. Had England not declined to use the mooted umpire referral system that is currently on trial in (utterly fascinating) India v Sri Lanka series, there's no doubt that Vaughan would have appealed the decision.
25th over: England 73-2 (Cook 44 Pietersen 4)"Surely Colly hadn't scored a test century before the 5th Test?" grumbles Jack Lee, ripping out the half-eaten Spunkmeyer cookie from Owen Bailey's hands, and thrusting it into the paws of Simon Blainey: "I reckon the last time this happened was in the match against India (25-29 Jul 2002) when England's top eight was: Butcher, Vaughan, Hussain, Thorpe, Crawley, Stewart, Flintoff, White." Nel is an altogether more lunatic creature now, unveiling a range of pantomime gurns and grimaces at Cook.
WICKET! Pietersen 4 c Prince b Kallis 26th over: England 74-3 (Cook 44 Bell 0)A wide from Kallis. "Do we get the delights of that old chestnut 'when you're in bad form all the luck seems to go against you'?" Indeed we do, Jonny Sultoon. What a goddamn shambles. England are collapsing in dismal dismal fashion. Pietersen goes, caught out. A very odd decision. The appeal went up for lbw, but the decision was 'caught out', the ball seemed to miss the inside edge and loop up to point after hitting the pad, where Prince took the catch. Another very bizarre decision by the umpires. The ball hit the pad, then the bat hit the pad, then the fielder took the catch. "If it wasn't caught it was out lbw" says Atherton. What an absolute bloody heap this is.
27th over: England 78-3 (Cook 44 Bell 0)My computer is crashing. Apologies. It's undoubtedly out of empathy with England.
28th over: England 82-3 (Cook 48 Bell 4)Well we almost kept it professional didn't we? Almost. That's lunch anyway, with England in a stinking smoldering pile.
LUNCH. John Ashdown will be your guide to this afternoon's farce.
Some good news! Yorkshire aren't yet collapsing/getting carted around the park against Surrey. Though that is largely due to the fact that rain has delayed the start of play.
Hit the panic button, says G Naylor. "Since the first innings were put to bed at Lord's, South Africa have conceded an average of one wicket per session. England are conceding an average of three wickets per session. Essentially, you need a couple of days to bowl England out twice, but nearly seven whole days' cricket to dismiss the Saffers twice. Sometimes it is right to panic, and that time may arrive very soon."
Scenes from the South African dressing room this lunchtime: I think this might sum it up.
And more on umpire referrals: "Our village side unwittingly tested an interesting early version of the system last year," writes Rich Billington. "First over, the opening bat of the other team was plumb lbw - 'not out' came the call. We used the initial version of the T signal (questioning of the optical performance and parentage of the umpire) and the final verdict was not communicated by the third umpire but by the rest of the batting team, who came onto the pitch wielding bats in order to inform us that the original decision had been upheld."
29th over: England 88-3 (Cook 49 Bell 8)Cooks flicks a single off his legs. In amongst all this doom-mongering can offer an optimistic angle? England have been the victims of two bum umpiring decisions (Vaughan and Pietersen) and a freak mistake (Strauss). Is there any need for all this hand-wringing? Bell skews a streaky one past gully for four.
30th over: England 93-3 (Cook 50 Bell 12)Ntini strays onto the pads and Cook brings up his half century, his 13th in Tests. His conversion rate looks good - he's got seven centuries on top of those 50s - but on the last eight occasions he's reached 50 for England he's only once gone on to make a hundred. England could really do with a big score from him now.
31st over: England 98-3 (Cook 55 Bell 12)Cracking drive from Cook for four more through the covers. "How the hell was KP unlucky?" wonders Andy Bradshaw. He was either out LBW (utterly plumb) or caught." Well, he was given out caught and he didn't hit it, I'd say that's pretty unlucky. And Sky's snickometer apparently registered a feather touch, says Ryan Spence. I say the umpire would have to be Batfink to be certain. Batfink, eh? Potentially the best umpire in cartoon world.
32nd over: England 104-3 (Cook 61 Bell 12)Cook brings up the England 100 with yet another into the on-side, with Ntini spraying it around. The opener follows that up with a drive down the ground - good stuff.
33rd over: England 106-3 (Cook 62 Bell 13)"You have mentioned hand-wringing and knee-jerking, butare there any other anxiety-based exercises you can recommend to usfor a more complete workout?" wonders Ian Copestake. I'd say there's a fair bit of head-scratching and soul-searching going on right now. Morkel gets one to leap up onto the handle of Bell's bat, but the ball plops short of gully. "I think Inspector Gadget would be a good umpire," writes Ben Smith. "When he gave someone out the batsmen would be under no illusion as the Inspector thrust an extended digit to within an inch of his disgruntled features." Maybe Gadget's nemesis Dr Claw, would be the economic option. Though he'd struggle to signal a six. Or a leg bye.
34th over: England 114-3 (Cook 67 Bell 16)Another sumptuous back-foot drive from Cook, who's playing rather fluently now. Stand by for a wild slash and a catch in the slips. "As there haven't been any charity mentions in today's OBO, could I possibly get a shout for my mate's insane effort to do a Walliams and swim the channel to raise money for cystic fibrosis?" Why not.
35th over: England 117-3 (Cook 67 Bell 18)"Bring back Rob Key!" shouts David Bell, and he's not the first to echo those sentiments in the OBO inbox today. Another Bell, Ian, survives yet another dangerous over from Morkel - it's become a case of fending off Morne and milking the runs of Makhaya at the moment. "If we're looking for stress related phrases, then my favourite is: 'if their arse had teeth, then they'd be chewing through the seat," writes Andy Bradshaw happily.
36th over: England 118-3 (Cook 68 Bell 18)Dibble, dobble, dibble, dobble ... Paul Harris replaces the ineffectual Ntini. "I don't know about the best cartoon umpire, but Yogi Bear would definitely be the worst. He'd be forever trying to sneak into the dressing rooms to steal the lunch and tea hampers," writes Mark Judd. "He'd probably do well in an IQ test against Ian Bell though, as he is "smarter than the average (Warwickshire) Bear."
37th over: England 118-3 (Cook 68 Bell 18)Cook dangles his bat out to a wide one from Nel, who, it really must be said, has one of the ugliest bowling action in the game. Still, it brings him a maiden. "Danger Mouse would be an enthusiastic umpire with the added bonus that he is already dressed in white," offers Ian Copestake very reasonably.
38th over: England 121-3 (Cook 70 Bell 19)Dibble, dobble, dibble, dobble. Here's Steve Evans: "What all these JCLs don't understand about English cricket is that in the mid-1990s were were in the depths, with bad results and talent going to waste. Only since about 1997 did the tanker start to turn around and English cricket began at last to move in the right direction after 30 years of decline. The 2004-2005 period was a blip, and now we are back at about our natural level of 4th/5th in the world, but things are getting better. Slowly, a depth of talent is emerging, but it will be another 5-10 years before we can hope to have strong competition for all positions 1-11. That's the key to long term, sustained success."
39th over: England 129-3 (Cook 70 Bell 27)Bell punches a boundary through the covers, then edges one low through the slips for four more - Nel doesn't look happy."The worst umpire would undoubtedly be He-Man," writes Alex Walsh. "He would forever be proclaiming that he had the power, making rash decisions and raising his hand to the sky unlike your human-type umpires today. Oh, hang on ..." Man-E-Faces would be a decent shout for the best - he could signal fours with his smiley face and dispatch batsmen back to the pavillion with his crazy monster face. Simple, yet effective.
40th over: England 132-3 (Cook 72 Bell 28)Dibble, dobble, dibble, dobble ... the close fielders briefly get interested as Cook has to dig one out, but he and Bell are happily working the singles. "Danger Mouse only has one eye, which may hamper his umpiring," notes Tom Walling not unreasonably. Does Danger Mouse only have one eye, or does he just wear the eye-patch for effect? We need to know.
WICKET! Cook c Kallas b Nel 76 (41st over: England 136-4 (Bell 28, Collingwood 0)"Captain Caveman would make the elite cartoon umpire panel," offers Stephen Wolstencroft. "He'd wave his club for a four, bounce up and down with twangy 'boing' noises to signal a six, and if there was a contentious decision he could refer it to a purple and yellow spotted dinosaur that he'd whip out of his fur." Speaking of clubs, Alastair Cook has just carted Nel through the covers. Then he nicks a full one from Nel and Kallis takes a fine sprawling catch in the slips. From Captain Caveman to Captain Calamity in three balls. Bah!
42nd over: England 139-4 (Bell 31, Collingwood 0)Bell works three down to square leg and here comes Paul Collingwood, who has a nervous prod outside the off first up. He needs a score and so do England. "The best umpire would be Bravestar - eye's of the hawk, ears of wolf - what more could you ask for?" asks Peter Sparrow.
43rd over: England 139-4 (Bell 31, Collingwood 0)Maiden from Nel. "Surely the best cartoon character to act as an umpire would be Sesame Street's 'The Count'?" suggests Gary Naylor. "In the clip, we also see a young Robert Key." Good effort, though I supppose The Count isn't strictly a cartoon. And here's Andrew White to sum up the mood of England fans worldwide: "For CRIPES SAKE can everyone stop getting out, please!"
44th over: England 139-4 (Bell 31, Collingwood 0)Big Jacques trundles in, but Collingwood is commendably cautious, leaving alone as many as he can. "Kallis and Nel must be two of the worst Test match bowlers ever, yet they have taken 4-50 against the 'best' English batsmen," writes Chris Sear, never one for hyperbole. "It shows how ridiculous the whole situation is - any half-decent batsman (Shah, Key, the Brook House and Highbrook CC top order) etc etc) should be able to bat all day against them." And thanks to everyone who writes to point out that Danger Mouse's eye-patch is simply worn as part of his outfit.
45th over: England 147-4 (Bell 39, Collingwood 0)Super ball from Nel, cutting the ball away from Bell off the pitch. It's too good for the batsman who edges it behind, but it drops just short of Smith at first slip. Bell responds by cutting for four next ball, then stroking a lovely drive to the boundary for four more. Nasser Hussain stole a bacon sandwich from a greasy spoon van this morning, according to his Sky pundit pals. English cricket really is going to the dogs, isn't it?
46th over: England 147-4 (Bell 39, Collingwood 0)"Could someone please get Collingwood back in the dressing room and fast," demands Dan Smith. "God knows how the atmosphere is shaping up in there without him." At the moment, he doesn't look like his "great character" will be missing from the balcony for long. It's early days but he's not timing the ball at all well, and he's not even played an attacking shot yet. OK, that's sensible, he'c clearly not in great nick, but is the Test match arena - and at 147-4 - really the best place to be scratching around for your form?
47th over: England 149-4 (Bell 40, Collingwood 0)Morkel returns and Bell takes a single from the last ball of the over. Not trying to protect the tail is he? Let's leave the last word on the Greatest Cartoon Umpires Ever™ riff to John Hodgson: "Surely Liono from Thundercats outdoes them all. He had 'sight beyond sight' which should make judging tricky bat/pad appeals, and more pertintently, whether or not a 'catch' was taken on the full, an absolute doddle. Snaarf could take square leg, to provide comic relief."
48th over: England 149-4 (Bell 40, Collingwood 0)Kallis zings one in onto Bell's pads and at first glance he's plum, but there's a big inside edge to the rescue. A play and a miss from the last ball - cracking bowling from the big man.
49th over: England 153-4 (Bell 40, Collingwood 4)"Isn't it reassuring to know though, that coming in at No8 is a really talented young all rounder with a test average of over 40 to add some valuable runs in this pathetic displa ... oh bugger." Thank you, Tom Rothery. Collingwood gets off the mark with a nice compact off-drive. Cue a roar from the Edgbaston crowd, though whether there's a hint of sarcasm in there I'm not sure.
50th over: England 154-4 (Bell 41, Collingwood 4)Just one off the over, as Kallis keeps things tidy. Yeah, I kinda switched off there for a while.
51st over: England 158-4 (Bell 45, Collingwood 4)Bell flicks a loose one from Morkel away for four down to fine leg. He's playing well again, and looks very much in control of the situation. And as I type "control of the situation", he completely mis-reads a swinging yorker that would have castled him had it been on target. "With another poor batting display thus far do you think the bowlers are now in the pavilion wondering which of them will get dropped for the next Test?" asks Martin Cruise not unreasonably.
WICKET! Collingwood 4 c Smith b Kallis (52nd over: England 164-5 (Bell 46, Flintoff 1)Well, you can show all the character in the world but when you're out of form you play poor shots, you don't score runs and therefore you don't contribute to the team. Collingwood attempts to whip one away to leg from outside the offstump, but he's early on it and it pings away, almost off the back of his bat, into the clammy hands of Graeme Smith at slip.
53rd over: England 168-5 (Bell 50, Flintoff 1)England are in a right old mess here (again), but Ian Bell continues to show the benefit of scoring some runs in county cricket. He brings up his half century with another belting drive through the covers. Surely Collingwood has to follow his lead, get some runs under his belt, and hope to break back into the team in the winter.
54th over: England 172-5 (Bell 50, Flintoff 4)"This is pathetic from England and the Saffers must be hard-pressed not to roll around the pitch laughing," sighs Clare Davies. Well, Clare, here's some exclusive footage from my secret camara inside the Saffers dressing room. Yeah, I know I've used that before, but I slightly obsessed with it. "Come on, lets open this Michael Vaughan debate," demands Toby Clark. "Is the guy really worth his place on captaincy alone? For all this talk of 7 or 8 batters, 4 or 5 bowlers, surely the question should be whether we have this 1 captain. What is he bringing to the party at the moment?"
WICKET! Bell 50 c Boucher b Ntini (55th over: England 173-6 (Flintoff 4, Ambrose 0)Let the vitriol flow! "I am sick to the back teeth of England selecting RUBBISH out-of-form batsmen in favor of good, young, talented bowlers," growls Phillip Woodger. "For goodness sake just play Flintoff at six, a wicket-keeper at seven and Broad at eight. It's not difficult. I don't give a Tom Tit that Flintoff has no runs this season or that ikle Stewie is tired," roars Andrew Clark. "Bring back Prior," parps my colleague Rich Flower. "He'd be better at No6 than Collingwood and then you could play an extra bowler (Simon Jones?)" Vaughan out! Collingwood out! Ambrose out! And, hello, now Bell out! He gets the finest of edges as Ntini flies in. England are in utter disarray.
56th over: England 172-6 (Flintoff 4, Ambrose 0)"There comes a point in the career of any England captain (or coach for that matter) when their desire to look after their mates overwhelms their ability to make difficult decisions for the good of the team. We've reached that point with Vaughan," writes Jeremy Gostick, echoing the thoughts of many OBOers mailing in. The side does have the air of a closed shop, doesn't it? Anyone think Pattinson was particularly warmly welcomed into the dressing room the other week? Hmm. Anyways, that's tea. Direct your England rebuilding schemes to Andy Bull, who'll be rejoining you after tea. Thanks for all your emails.
To lost six wickets in two sessions is poor, to do so when you've won the toss and chosen to bat on the first morning of a Test you have to win or draw, well that's worse than shoddy, it's shocking.
If you had to guess what nationality Michael Swinson was what would you go for? "The current debate baffles me. Everyone writing in seems convinced that poor team selection is the only reason England isn't dominating this series. I think they're just blind to the fact that England's 11 best cricketers (as chosen by the nominated selectors, who are in the best position to judge) are barely good enough to squeak through a home series against NZ and nowhere near good enough to threaten a very solid Saffa side. Everyone needs to get real and accept the fact that the English just aren't particularly good at cricket." Hogwash fella, I'd at least wait till the end of next summer before you start crowing that loudly.
For my money, Maurits van Eijick is much nearer the mark when he says: "As a proud Saffa supporter, everybody only complains about poor English batting, bowling etc etc. Then again. Maybe they aren't that bad. South Africa are maybe just a class better right now and have beaten several top teams and on a good day, could beat anyone. South Africa are having their moment. England are not. Those tables can turn quickly."
What's the best England can hope for now? 300 and a little more I suppose. Fall short of that and this match is only going to get worse.
57th over: England 174-6 (Flintoff 4 Ambrose 1)"Michael Vaughan won the toss and said we'll bat, but I suppose England fans must be asking 'when?'" quips Bumble. Ntini opens after Tea, bowling to wee Timmy Ambrose. One thing I would say is that's two successive howlers by the selectors: Pattinson and Collingwood. After sticking to their principles and keeping the same side for so many games in a row, I reckon they were allowed one big black mark, but now they've another to sit alongside it.
58th over: England 175-6 (Flintoff 4 Ambrose 2)Paul Harris is on at the other end. Which is insulting.
59th over: England 176-6 (Flintoff 4 Ambrose 2)"Lets hope our danger player, the rain, comes into play for the next four days" muses Kim Sibthorpe, "What's the cloud cover looking like? I am off to do a rain dance on my office roof". He's due some, so fingers crossed.
60th over: England 176-6 (Flintoff 4 Ambrose 2)I wonder how long Flintoff is going to be able to curb his enthusiasm? I give him another couple of overs before he starts to have a heave. With the ground so quiet, the sound of one drunken barracker rings loud: "Ambrose you're rubbish!" he bellows, "get the bloody hell on with it." Friendly fella.
61st over: England 180-6 (Flintoff 7 Ambrose 3)Flintoff clumps three runs to mid-wicket with rustic vigour. "Although he may not look like much you do realise that Harris's bowling average is comparable with Monty and Flintoff [all 32 and a bit] (and better than Anderson's)" yes, Alex Higgs, yes I do, having made that point in both previous Tests. This doesn't change the fact that in English conditions he's a truly abysmal bowler.
62nd over: England 183-6 (Flintoff 8 Ambrose 6)And here he is, busily plying his filth. "Any idea how many more times Vaughan has to fail with the bat before he gets booted out of the side?" Alex continues, "Hopefully not many but I imagine he'll still be here come next year's ashes, albeit with a lower average and an increased tendency to blither on about character, net form". Given that he is the most successful captain in the history of English cricket I hope he is there next summer, and given that it's only been seven innings since his last Test 100 (in just May this year) I wouldn't expect him to be dropped for his batting form either. Mark Taylor went 21 innings as Australian captain without a Test fifty, Hussain went 18 innings as skipper without passing 25.
63rd over: England 187-6 (Flintoff 8 Ambrose 10)Good shot by Ambrose, who hooks well for four through long leg.
64th over: England 192-6 (Flintoff 12 Ambrose 10)Four! Crisp and clean through the offside. Consolation comes in the form of a forlorn email from Ben Williams: "The Man Booker Prize longlist having been announced yesterday, sans any South African writers (curses!), we who follow books are in some desperation trying to find one solid link that will connect SA to one of the longlistees, so we can adopt a horse to back in the race. Someone has hopefully pointed out that Joseph O'Neill's Netherland is about cricket. The book hasn't featured much over here. Would any of your readers know if it includes accounts of dashing SA cricketers putting all and sundry to the sword (as currently)?" I sincerely hope not.
65th over: England 192-6 (Flintoff 13 Ambrose 10)Ben Mimmack makes the case for the prosecution: "I think the problem is that Vaughan has lived with being England captain for too long and the pressure is now beginning to tell. In Mike Atherton, in his book, talks about how the captaincy was all he ever thought about when he had the position and eventually it turned him into a completely different person." I can see your point, but I'd say we won't realise just how much he contributed till he's gone, and when he does go, people will be queuing up to call him one of England's all-time greats.
66th over: England 196-6 (Flintoff 13 Ambrose 14)Ambrose tickles four to fine leg.
67th over: England 196-6 (Flintoff 13 Ambrose 14)Here's Gunter, hopefully to raise the game out of the post Tea torpor. Perhaps the best suggestion as to what to do with England's captain is this, from Michael Kidd: "On Vaughan, given that there is nobody else in the side who stands out as captain material (I'm not sure Strauss' position in the team is yet secure enough for it to go to him), how about moving him down the order to take Colly's place at 6? This would allow Colly to go back to Durham and find some form, it would take Vaughan away from the pressure of batting at 3 (where he's struggling far too much at the moment) and also allow one of Key / Bopara / Shah, all of whom are in good form for their counties, to come in."
68th over: England 198-6 (Flintoff 14 Ambrose 15)"I'm currently reading Netherland -- fully recommend it. The main character is Dutch (obviously), which gives us a tenuous link to South Africa." Gareth Harper there, doing even more straw clutching than the average England fan.
68th over: England 202-6 (Flintoff 18 Ambrose 15)"Having given it careful consideration I think that Bill Frindall should take over from Vorderman on Countdown." That email, from Tom v d Gucht, stands alone.
69th over: England 202-6 (Flintoff 18 Ambrose 15)Sigh. "This Vaughan most successful england captain ever in history business is the kind of thing that gets tiresome, of course he's had the most wins, but thats coz we live in an age where one plays 15 odd tests a year on a % of wins basis - may, Jardine, Brearley, Chapman, Hutton etc have far superior records - and no Bangaldesh in those wins either". It's good but it's not right, Dominik Hindal as Roy Walters would be happy to tell you. For a start, Hutton's winning % is lower than Vaughan's, for a second Brearley's is 8 points higher, but his batting contribution some 20 runs per innings fewer, for a third the Bangladesh complaint (so commonly made) is poorly conceived - New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and India - all of them had prolonged periods of being mostly rubbish back in the day. Finally, a high winning % is harder to maintain over time, not easier, thus Vaughan receives more credit for doing it in an era when we play more games each year, not less. Next.
69th over: England 202-6 (Flintoff 18 Ambrose 15)Sigh. "This Vaughan most successful england captain ever in history business is the kind of thing that gets tiresome, of course he's had the most wins, but thats coz we live in an age where one plays 15 odd tests a year on a % of wins basis - may, Jardine, Brearley, Chapman, Hutton etc have far superior records - and no Bangladesh in those wins either". It's good but it's not right, Dominik Hindal as Roy Walker would be happy to tell you. For a start, Hutton's winning % is lower than Vaughan's, for a second Brearley's is 8 points higher, but his batting contribution some 20 runs per innings fewer, for a third the Bangladesh complaint (so commonly made) is poorly conceived - New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and India - all of them had prolonged periods of being mostly rubbish back in the day. Finally, a high winning % is harder to maintain over time, not easier, thus Vaughan receives more credit for doing it in an era when we play more games each year, not less. Next.
Apologies for the continuing technical problems. You'll be pleased to hear that... WICKET! Ambrose 22 b Kallis England 212-7
WICKET! Sidebottom 2 c Boucher b Ntini (74th over: England 215-8) (Flintoff 22)"Can I just mention that I gave Gareth Harper (68th over) "Netherland" for his birthday?" moans Michael Abbott, "Given that he has used a mention of it to draw level in our "who gets the most OBO mentions" competition, I think it is a little churlish that he didn't mention my involvement. It also shows that he is a very slow reader given that his birthday is in May." Yeah... he's probably an idiot. Captain! The ship is sinking!
75th over: England 217-8 (Flintoff 24 Anderson 0)Flintoff has licence to larrup. Christ. I've had it. It's so goddamn hot in this office you've no idea. It's goddamn criminal. I feel like a chicken on a spit, rotating my way round the grease stained window of some filthy French butcher. The computers only work every other half hour of the day and cricket has been absolutely pathetic. England are playing like dogs. Now you see why I started that riff this morning.
WICKET! Anderson 1 run out (76th over: England 228-8 (Flintoff 35)Much as I've tried to restrain my anger I've just about had enough of it. Sinless bloody rubbish this is. I need cold booze, a cigarette and some sixes. I get at least one of the last as Flintoff crashes Ntini for six over backward square. "Come on Freddy!" shouts the very moist Paolo Bandini from across the desk, "we're going to win the Ashes!" screams a wet-through Tom Lutz from alongside him, as Fred biffs four through long-off. A bit of Bob Hoskins spirit, that's what we need, shouts an utterly sweat sodden Andy Bull. Cabin fever.
WHAT A COMPLETE GODDAMN SHAMBLES Panesar runs himself out going for a stupid second run. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY BLOODY AWFUL. Two run outs in two balls, both totally gratuitous. This has been the worst single innings performance by England I've seen in a long long while. OK that's a lie. It's no worse than any other amount of rubbish they've produced over the last two years. Pure unadulterated filth all round. Utterly humiliating. WICKET! Panesar run out 1 England 231 Flintoff 36.
What I'd like to see now is Bob Hoskins give England a 'motivational' team talk.
1st over: South Africa 0-0 (McKenzie 0 Smith 0)"The ineptitude of England's batting at the end of that innings was quite stunning" breathes Atherton. "I'm struggling to find anything positive to say about it" says Botham. Sidebottom opens the attack. McKenzie leaves everything he can, and blocks the rest.
2nd over: South Africa 2-0 (McKenzie 0 Smith 2)At the other end comes James Anderson. "WHAT A COMPLETE GODDAMN SHAMBLES - never were truer words written" emails David Keech, "four of our six "batsmen" contributed a total of 28 between them. Ignoring Flintoff Ambrose is 3rd highest of the "out" batsmen with 22. Next comes extras with 15. With four bowlers on a belter what's the bet SA declare at 750 for 3 sometime Friday lunchtime?" Strong. Smith takes the first two runs of the innings.
3rd over: South Africa 6-0 (McKenzie 0 Smith 2)"Any truth in the rumour that Channel 5 have replaced tonight's scheduled Highlights from Edgbaston show with some unseen footage of the last Winter Olympics on the grounds there's a chance of some England success in it?" quips Clare Davies. Right right right! Roll up roll up roll up and vote now. Please feel free to treat a "no" vote as a general condemnation of everything England have done so far in this Test. Or, if you want to make the guardian sport section look really silly tomorrow, vote 'yes'.
4th over: South Africa 10-0 (McKenzie 0 Smith 4)The case for the prosecution part II, Alex Higgs takes the floor: "in the last year Vaughan has scored one century and three fifty in 22 innings at an average of 27.9. Considering he bats at 3, his batting form is an issue. In terms of 'most successful' - he is called that because he currently has the record for number of wins as captain (27). This is bolstered by winning 4 against Bangladesh, 10 against the Windies and 7 against New Zealand. Excluding these teams (harsh to New Zealand perhaps) he has won 6 lost 6 and drawn 10. Which is good, but doesn't indicate that his captaincy should be regarded as quite as special as some people seem to think it is."
5th over: South Africa 12-0 (McKenzie 0 Smith 4)The tide of ire and bile subsides, and I find myself returning to a more typical state of resigned indignation.
6th over: South Africa 16-0 (McKenzie 1 Smith 6)If you want a forum to express your disgust, shock, shame and horror, here you are.
7th over: South Africa 17-0 (McKenzie 5 Smith 7)"Shambollox" emails Oliver Thorpe, "has the word already been invented? If not, may I claim copyright, please? It will feature in the OED as "Shambollox: see England´s first innings, Third Test vs S Africa, 2008". Thank you".
WICKET! Smith 7 c Strauss b Flintoff (8th over: South Africa 17-1 (McKenzie 5 Harris 0)Flintoff is on, and hopefully in the mood to make up everything that's gone before. Yes! The first is a peach and the second is even better! It snicks off Smith's edge and flies to second slip. "Oh dear indeed!" whinnies Giles Page, "Just looked at county figures Broad just bagged 3-47". The South Africans have sent in Harris as a nighwatchman. If England have anything about them, they'll see that as a chance for another quick cheap wicket.
9th over: South Africa 26-1 (McKenzie 8 Harris 2)The other bowlers seem like mere shadows in comparison to Fred, the atmosphere around the ground sinks and mutes, the bats seem twice as wide. If only, as Colin Wood observes, "we had a pterodactyl bowling at the other end to Freddie". No real reason to print Colins musings, other than it gives us an always welcome opportunity to embed his OBO theme:
Suitably inspired, Sidebottom lands a short ball on Harris's helmet, the batsman collapsing to the ground as the ball runs away for four leg byes.
10th over: South Africa 30-1 (McKenzie 12 Harris 2)Penultimate over of a dreary day, and unfortunately it's the walking bottle of mogadon Neil McKenzie on strike, as near to a guarantee of an uneventful over as you can possibly get. He takes four from the last ball, flicking a legstump half volley away behind square.
11th over: South Africa 38-1 (McKenzie 12 Harris 10)Three slips, two gullies, and Harris manages to thread a thick edge through the gap. It's enough to make you puke. He squirts another edge through fine leg, to complete a fine pair of boundaries. The last ball is a yorker, and for all England's appealing it brings them nothing.
That's that then. Let's all go home and forget about it. Pronto. See you tomorrow. Cheers for your company and emails. Ta-ra.