What. A. Session. West Indies didn't survive in Perth but England somehow did in Centurion. Cracking last session. Friedel de Wet, take a bow. At about 5pm South African time, with England four down for about 200, the mood was bordering on dull as the on-air commentators discussed the selection conundrums for both sides ahead of the second Test, with a lot of chatter about whether South Africa should drop de Wet or Ntini for a fit Steyn. There was talk of Ntini's ability to swing the ball away from the left-handers if he found assistance in Durban, but also of how impressive de Wet had been on debut, especially the longer he bowled. Then, in eight overs of the new ball, de Wet turned the game on its head and the commentators were salivating.
Tremendous effort by the debutant. Unlike Ntini, he made the batsmen play. That's all you need to do in such situations, and a false shot or two is bound to occur. Sure enough, a solid Trott was done for bounce, the ball skimming the shoulder of his bat to third slip where de Villiers took a blinder. Next to go? Surprise, surprise ... the Shermanator. Ian Bell looks gorgeous when creaming drives through cover and mid-on when all is well, but turn up the pressure and this wimp nicks the ball to second slip, tucks his bat under his arm, and its thanks for coming, Belly.
As the commentators discussed Bell's ability to bat big and pretty in county cricket but how his mindset changes in high-pressure Test cricket, the inevitable happened. Good bell, bat hangs out, nick to Boucher, great catch. Bye bye, Bell.
As one regular Cricinfo feedbacker said: "If Luke Wright does not replace Ian Bell for the 2nd Test, I'm taking up South African nationality in protest."
Prior was done for by a gem from de Wet, climbing from off stump and taking the edge to Boucher. Out goes Ntini, in comes Harris for some spin and viola! Third ball he gets Broad to nick one and the review confirms it.
Now its five slips, a short leg and a short cover. de Wet red hot. What a spell - 7-3-11-3. Poor Collingwood at the other end, stubborn and wondering where his team-mates were and who the posers were on the procession line. It really was an amazing collapse of South African proportions. The game looked headed for a tame draw but inspired by de Wet, it all changed.
Then a fuller one stayed low and darted back off the upright seam, striking Swann flush on the knee cap in front of middle and leg. It looked plumb, Morkel confidently appealed, Aleem Dar raised his finger, and Collingwood's request for the review showed that the world's best umpire was spot on. Nineteen deliveries to go, and out walks the last man. Five wickets went down for 15 runs in 11.1 overs.
It was as tense as Edgbaston and Old Trafford 2005, Lord's 2007, Sydney 2008 and Cardiff 2009. In fact England could have fainted from the deja vu of that Cardiff cracker this summer.
In the second last over, Collingwood and Onion ran a single off the fourth ball. That left Collingwood two balls to get a single. He got a four and a dot. Smith went back to Ntini for the last over. Six balls in his 100th Test. Amazing. Onions on strike. But was Ntini the best option? He made Onions play all six balls but Onions survived. So near, yet so far. Onions should keep his place in Durban just for his batting. England survived the most draws this decade?
South Africa's exceptional catching also contributed to the drama. de Villiers and Boucher were awesome. What a wonderful, see-saw match, and that's the beauty of Test cricket. Good to see Smith push de Wet up the stairs as the team reached the boundary, saying go on, lead us off.
Stuff high-scoring ODIs where big bats sodomize dead tracks. Give me a session of Test cricket like that any time.