Sunday, December 20, 2009

England cling on to draw Centurion thriller

England needed number 11 Graham Onions to see out the final over to secure a nail-biting draw in the first Test against South Africa.

The series opener appeared to be meandering along to a tame finish when the tourists were 172-3 in the final session chasing an unlikely target of 364.

However the careless run out of Kevin Pietersen for 81 gave the Proteas renewed hope before a fine spell from Friedel de Wet left England clinging on.

The debutant paceman crucially ended the stoic resistance of Jonathan Trott (69), who became the first of five wickets to fall for only 13 runs in 11 overs with the second new ball.

Collingwood - once again playing the part of 'Brigadier Block' in making 26 from 99 deliveries - was eventually left with only Durham team-mate Onions to survive the final 19 balls to reach the close on 228-9.

Such a dramatic conclusion had not been on the cards when Trott and Pietersen built a superb fourth-wicket stand of 145.

The pair batted throughout the afternoon session after coming together at 27-3 following the departure of opener Alastair Cook, who was caught at leg slip from the first delivery he faced from spinner Paul Harris.

By then James Anderson (10) had also gone, the nightwatchman gloving a leg side delivery from de Wet within the reach of wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.

But from such a perilous position England's two South African-born batsmen looked so much at ease that it appeared the visitors, rather than their opponents, were the team sensing the possibility of winning at tea.

Any ambitions of a late run chase disappared, though, when Pietersen tapped one straight down and set off like a bullet out of a gun for what could at best be described as a dubious single.

Sadly for him, his batting partner hadn't budged an inch, bringing to an end a fine knock of 81 that had included 11 fours and a lucky escape when he survived what would have been a plum lbw shout thanks to a no ball.

Yet even when Trott, who had played the role of tortoise whilst in alliance with the hare-like Pietersen, was eventually dismissed, a draw still seemed certain.

De Wet had other ideas, though, getting Ian Bell and Matt Prior - who combined for a grand total of 11 runs in the match - caught behind.

Graeme Smith then produced a masterstroke in sticking on spinner Harris to Stuart Broad, who got a feather on a full delivery before Graeme Swann fell lbw to one that stayed low from Morne Morkel.

England used their referrals in an attempt to stay alive but neither were given a repreive, leaving South Africa odds-on for victory and a 1-0 series lead.

Collingwood, reprising his role from Cardiff this summer when he helped save the first Ashes Test, did his best to hog the strike but an ill-judged single in the penultimate over meant Onions was the left to face the music.

When Makhaya Ntini was thrown the ball by Smith, a fairytale finish to his 100th Test appearance seemed to be written in the stars.

Instead Onions - or 'Bunny' as he's known in the England dressing room - held out, punching the air with delight after defending the final delivery of the match.

England had not lost the opening Test of a tour for the first time in five series, while the first draw on South African soil since 2006 means the two nations head to Durban on Boxing Day with honours still even.

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