Smith calls the shots in England
BY KEEPING England at the crease until late on Monday, way past the time at which it would have been possible to call it a day, Proteas captain Graeme Smith was making a simple statement: "We are in command, we are controlling the situation".
He made it clear the Proteas had retaken the initiative which had been snatched so dramatically by Kevin Pietersen with his whirlwind innings of 149 on Saturday.
England had been offered a target of 253 to win off 39 overs, but once Pietersen, sent in as an opener for the first time in his test career, and the belligerent Matt Prior had been dismissed, England gave up the chase.
The ball was still moving, but the pitch was slow, and the wickets which had fallen came as a result of England trying to force the pace.
The result is that England head to Lord's in two weeks knowing they have to force a win to retain their No1 status, and also knowing that in the two tests the South Africans have always taken the important sessions. The first session of the second day at The Oval, when England were 267/3 and looking to build an unbeatable innings, was a classic example of a South African comeback which set the tone for the rest of the test.
At Headingley, South Africa neutralised England's attack on the first morning, when put in to bat on a capricious surface in bowler-friendly conditions; on Sunday they came back from the battering dished out by Pietersen to rein in England's score and then made the game safe on the morning of the fifth day, when resuming just 33 runs ahead. And that with a line-up severely disrupted by injuries to Jacques Kallis, Alviro Petersen and Smith himself.
England, too, must be mindful of the fact that without Pietersen's amazing innings, which was embellished by Prior's aggressive 68, their batting line-up did not particularly shine when they had the best of the batting conditions, and the four-man pace attack, admittedly snubbed by Lady Luck, could not hammer home an advantage. It was undoubtedly embarrassing that, until Stuart Broad rediscovered his mojo on the final day, the leading wicket-taker was Pietersen, who gathered four wickets with his part-time spin, three of them in an eight-over spell which cost just 21 runs.
Going into the Lord's test, Pietersen again dominates the headlines with a veiled threat to quit test cricket over his long-running battle with the England and Wales Cricket Board, which will not bow to his demands to pick and choose his one-day commitments.
It is a "distraction" which Strauss admits he does not need.