Cow Corner

South Africa, leave it…out

Cow Corner

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Short of waving a white handkerchief or doffing their helmets at the England bowlers in Derek Randall-esque fashion, South Africa contrived to collapse while barely offering a shot on the fourth day at Kingsmead.

For many years it was the sight of Ray 'sack the lot of 'em' Illingworth thumping his fists against a table which marked a middle-order capitulation, but at Kingsmead it was Mickey Arthur hiding forlornly under the peak of his baseball cap which was the enduring image.

Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad were given the kind of free rein normally afforded only to opposing bowlers against Bangladesh, as three South Africa batsmen opted to shoulder arms to straight deliveries as the hosts imploded before black clouds stopped play.

As Ian Bell proved at Centurion, to attempt to evade a straight ball in line with middle stump is a dangerous ploy, but the hosts did not heed that lesson as Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy (pictured) all appeared to compete for artistic merit as they extravagantly left stump-trashing deliveries from the ecstatic Broad.

The lanky seamer must have believed he was simply unplayable until he produced a third successive 'straight one' to Mark Boucher on a hat-trick. The South Africa wicket-keeper used the occasion to dig the ball out with almost patronising caution to show his predecessors how to use the piece of willow.

It was a tame way for the hosts to squander their hard work, as Paul Harris had earlier toiled outside Bell's leg stump with such an unerringly defensive line that it made Ashley Giles's famous stint to Sachin Tendulkar in India appear positively dashing in comparison.

Humourless umpire Aleem Dar took a very dim view of Harris's strategy, and wided the 'spinner' for an innocuous leg-side delivery, as if purely to display his growing disgust at what seemed an interminable lull in play during the afternoon session.

Coupled with some ponderous batting after Bell shook his mullet with arms aloft to mark his century, Harris - with his face plastered in sun-block - produced a spell which was notable only for the fact that the world's seventh best bowler was outbowled by the part-time loopy off-twirlers of Duminy.

The end for Harris, and one of the final acts before Swann and Broad set about wreaking havoc in South Africa's second innings, was an over which cost 16 runs as the spinner emerged after lunch stiffer than Allan Lamb and Arjuna Ranatunga after an England-Sri Lanka eat-off.

Bell spanked a dismal full-bunger away for four, then Broad gave a leg-side half-volley the treatment over Cow for six, before a second boundary was hoiked dismissively over midwicket from the lanky left-hander with England rollicking along merrily. "Take a blow there, Harry!" barked Smith, who was left seething with anger at mid-on.

Indeed, the wicketless Makhaya Ntini grafted with such dogged determination that when Swann adopted the blacksmith approach with his long handle, the veteran seamer was left on his knees mid-pitch, in unreserved despair.

The penultimate ball of the England innings saw Graham Onions struck mercilessly on the head by the infuriated Ntini. But the placid Durham seamer was not sufficiently riled to emulate Devon Malcolm who, after being struck on the head by Fanie de Villiers against South Africa back in 1994, famously proceeded to take 9-57 in a spell of irrepressible anger.

Earlier in the day, Bell continued his record of adding an enterprising, aesthetically-pleasing century from number six to once again alleviate the pressure on his shoulders following a torrid run.

Bell has become adept at bailing himself out with his place under intense scrutiny, with a faultless ton in situations which are conducive to unhampered strokeplay, and with a solid platform for the innings already made.

To date, the Princethorpe College cover-drive model has only ever compiled a three-figure score when another member, or members, of the England side have already reached the landmark - the opposite, if you will, to Paul 'Brigadier block' Collingwood.

Does that mean that Bell only delivers when the going is easy, when the pressure is already eased? Possibly. But he does look damn good when unfurling an expansive drive through extra-cover with his exaggerated follow-through.

Bell has never scored 200 runs combined in both innings of a Test match. The closest he has ever come was when he scored 199 against South Africa at Lords. All the rest of England's specialist batsmen, with the exception the new man Jonathan Trott, have managed this feat of consistency.

But Bell should not be castigated for his proficiency to capitalise on favourable circumstances - it is surely the opposite to complacency - as he is the man to turn to when you require a second or third ton to turn a very good total into an excellent one.

The Warwickshire man showed typical opportunism to further push South Africa under the cosh at Kingsmead, and perhaps his fervent kissing of the England badge to mark his century may finally sway public opinion in his favour.

SHOT OF THE DAY: Swann's response to a 90mph Steyn yorker after he had just arrived at the crease, was to walk audaciously across his stumps and whip the ball wide of fine leg. Morkel lay down to prevent the boundary with his giraffe-like frame, but for sheer style and breathless arrogance, it was the shot of the day.

STAT OF THE DAY: Swann has now taken 52 wickets in 2009, second only behind Mitchell 'I'll buy that wicket off you' Johnson, who has 61 dismissals/purchases to his name. Swann is 48 runs short of joining Johnson as the only other player to do the 500 run/50 wicket calendar-year double, although that is rendered pretty irrelevant thanks to his efforts today.

USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: Why on earth did Ian Bell not receive Sports Personality of the Year? It baffles me that every single year the poor man gets overlooked, despite countless attempts to dye his hair and play shots which would do justice to a work of modern art. He certainly gets my vote for 2010, and the year has not even started (Kevin_edy137) - Hear! hear!

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