| Graeme Smith (left) and Herschelle Gibbs during their 338-run opening stand at Edgbaston on Thursday. (Reuters)
Birmingham: South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith became the first opening pair in Test history to put on 300 runs twice as they destroyed England’s attack on the first day of the series-opener on Thursday.
Captain Smith had made 178 not out — the third time he has passed 150 in 15 innings — as South Africa closed on 398 for one. Gary Kirsten was 26 not out.
The two, who made 368 against Pakistan six months ago, never looked under any sustained pressure as they both recorded big centuries in a stand of 338.
The mismatch ended when Gibbs, on 179 and having batting a fraction over five hours, swept at Michael Vaughan’s occasional off-spin and holed out to Mark Butcher at deep mid-wicket.
As Gibbs departed, along with his 29 fours and one six, Edgbaston’s harried statisticians were frantically listing the broken records left in his wake.
The opening stand was the highest ever against England in 807 Tests, beating the 329 by Geoff Marsh and Mark Taylor of Australia at Trent Bridge in 1989.
It was also South Africa’s biggest stand for any wicket against England, beating a 56-year record. Smith and Gibbs have only opened together in 10 Test innings.
With the in-form Jacques Kallis back home following the death of his father, England had hoped to make early inroads into a batting line-up appearing shallower than usual. Nasser Hussain had even suggested the touring side were “there for the taking”. They were not.
England’s players, their pace attack defused, dismantled and then dispatched to all parts, trudged off at the close to even worse news.
An X-ray confirmed opening batsman Marcus Trescothick had broken the tip of his right index finger while fielding, and the left-hander will undergo ice treatment before deciding whether to bat.
The first day of hostilities, indeed, had been all about fingertips and half-chances for England.
There was barely a leg before shout all day while the meagre opportunities on offer all seemed to fall just short.
England, faced with a short right-hander and an imposing left-hander, enjoyed a handful of overs — Darren Gough, back in the side after two years of injury, started with three straight maidens — before Gibbs warmed up after Smith opted to bat in overcast conditions.
Gibbs took 25 deliveries to emerge from his slumber before unleashing dismissive pulls off James Anderson and Gough followed by a crashing drive off Andrew Flintoff through mid-off.
Soon the pair were dealing largely in boundaries as the bowlers huffed, puffed and failed to conjure up any consistent movement in the air or off the seam.