Alastair Cook ton puts England in control
London: Alastair Cook hit his 20th Test century to steer England to 267-3 at stumps Thursday on the opening day of the first Test against South Africa at The Oval.
Cook hit a measured 114 not out from 283 balls, with a six and 11 fours, to put England in charge. Jonathan Trott made 71 from 162 balls with nine fours.
"It was very satisfying," Cook said. "I think it`s been a year since my last test hundred and it`s been quite frustrating. I`d have taken 90 if offered, but to get through the nineties was a very special feeling."
Morne Morkel trapped England captain Andrew Strauss lbw for 0 on the fourth ball of the day. He was the best bowler on a lifeless wicket, taking 2-44 on a frustrating day for South Africa.
"I think we played well," South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald said. "We all knew that the toss, I wouldn`t say it was crucial, but it was obviously a good toss to win. We got off to a great start with the Strauss wicket. At times I think we could have been a little more aggressive in certain situations, but we never let England run away."
After winning the toss and choosing to bat, England made the worst possible start when Strauss - who was initially given not out by umpire Steve Davis - was shown to be plumb lbw to Morkel upon referral.
However, Cook and Trott steered England to 70-1 at lunch and made a confident start to the afternoon session, with Cook producing two glorious shots in the 28th over to hit fours off successive balls from Steyn - the first a cut through point and the second a straight drive.
"In the first session it was certainly nibbling around," Cook said. "But it did it quite slowly, so we could grind our way through it. We`ve had a really good day but we`ve had to work for it."
Batting conditions improved significantly, and although South Africa`s bowlers successfully stemmed the flow of boundaries and slowed the run rate to less than three an over, they seldom looked like taking a wicket.
The duo crept to 158-1 at tea and their partnership finally came to an end 20 minutes into the evening session, when Morkel had Trott caught behind.
Although Kevin Pietersen looked vulnerable early on, South Africa`s bowlers continued to struggle on a lifeless track.
Cook brought up his century, from 222 balls, with a single of Imran Tahir in the 71st over, before Pietersen gifted South Africa his wicket when he was caught behind off a rank long hop from Jacques Kallis for 42 in the 79th.
The first three overs with the new ball were maidens but Ian Bell got off the mark with a stylish cover drive to Dale Steyn for four and was unbeaten on 10 at stumps.
"The wicket of Pietersen was a huge bonus for us at the stage, with the new ball just around the corner," Donald said. "I think throughout the day we bowled better and better (but) we`ve got to make inroads tomorrow early."