South Africa fought back against England on the second day of the first test on Friday, first with the ball and then the bat, to close on 86 for one after bowling England out for 385.
Captain Graeme Smith, playing his 100th test match, was 37 not out and Hashim Amla was on 47 after being dropped on 40 by first slip Andrew Strauss off Ravi Bopara. Alviro Petersen went for a duck, lbw to James Anderson with just one on the scoreboard.
The second-wicket partnership between Smith and Amla capped a much-needed improvement by the tourists after a lethargic display on day one, when England were mostly in control.
Morne Morkel finished off the England innings with four for 72, while a reenergised Dale Steyn and veteran Jacques Kallis claimed two wickets apiece. Alastair Cook added just one run to his overnight score to depart for 115 and Matt Prior added a vital 60 from 90 balls.
It was an impressive comeback by the Proteas after England resumed on 267 for three. The bowling was more accurate and aggressive, although bowling conditions were better with the sun being replaced by cloud cover.
“”It was needed,” Morkel told reporters ““We knew the first hour was key and we had to get early wickets. All credit must go to Vernon (Philander) and Dale – the way they bowled was fantastic.
“”The great thing about Dale is that he is number one in the world and you know he can deliver something special at any time. Dale put the peg in the ground and showed the way for us to follow.”
Prior’s innings was a vital contribution as England, at one point, looked as if they were going to collapse at 313 for seven as the Proteas squeezed them with some tight, penetrative bowling.
Prior struggled early on but after lunch was more fluent, hitting three fours in six balls in one sequence. Prior reached his fifty by straight driving Vernon Philander for four.
He was eventually Morkel’s third victim and was also one of AB de Villiers’ five catches, which would please the team having lost the services of veteran wicketkeeper Mark Boucher to a freak eye injury on the first day of the tour.
“”The ball certainly did a bit more (than on day one) this morning,” Prior said. ““We knew South Africa were going to come hard again, which they did, and we had to steady the ship.
“”We have a good score on that wicket. The way that wicket is changing, I think 350 is almost a par score. We are in a very good position and a lot will depend on tomorrow morning. We have the bowlers to do the job for us.”
Cook was the first man to fall in the day when he dragged a full-length ball from Steyn back on to his off stump. Steyn then picked up Ravi Bopara, making his latest comeback, for a duck when he mistimed a hook shot and edged to the keeper.
Ian Bell was bowled for 13 by Kallis after some clever swing and seam bowling that outfoxed the batsman. Stuart Broad (16) and Graeme Swann (15 not out) chipped in down the order.
Despite taking only the one wicket, England would at least have been encouraged by occasional evidence of sharp spin from Swann and uneven bounce.