London: Alastair Cook drew level with his mentor Graham Gooch by hitting his 20th Test century, giving England the edge on the first day of the first Test match against South Africa at the Oval on Thursday. Cook made 114 not out as England overcame the loss of captain Andrew Strauss in the first over to reach 267 for 3 at stumps.
His chanceless hundred put him level with fellow Essex stalwart and current England batting coach Gooch. He also shares the mark with current team-mates Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. The England record is 22, shared by Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoff Boycott.
"It's nice to join Goochy. He was a great player and to have the same number of hundreds as him is a very special moment," said Cook. Cook shared a 170-run second wicket partnership with Jonathan Trott (71) and an 81-run third wicket stand with Kevin Pietersen, who made 42.
Cook and Trott came together without a run on the board after Strauss was leg before wicket to Morne Morkel off the fourth ball of the match. But Cook and Trott were largely untroubled as they rebuilt the England innings with sensible batting, only playing the ball when it was necessary or when they could pick off loose deliveries.
South Africa's highly-rated pace attack was neutralised by solid batting and a dry, easy-paced pitch.
With the number one ranking in Test cricket at stake, it had been expected that the series would be a battle between two outstanding pace attacks but the South Africans were forced to settle for containment for much of the day. The tourists used spin bowlers for 21 of the 90 overs sent down.
"In the first session the ball nibbled around with the bit of rain and all the clouds, but the one thing it did for us was it did it very slowly," said Cook. "We've had a really good day but we had to work."
The South African bowling coach Allan Donald said it had been "a hard day's Test cricket."
"England played well," said Donald. "It's a good batting wicket but we stuck to our task really well today. There were times when I thought we could have been a little more aggressive but we never allowed England to run away with the day."
The left-handed Cook showed impeccable shot selection as he reached his century off 222 balls, with 11 fours and a top-edged hook for six off Dale Steyn. By the close he had faced another 61 deliveries without adding another boundary.
Trott faced 162 balls and hit nine fours, scoring a high percentage of his runs on the leg side, before he was caught behind when he edged a drive against Morkel, not getting fully forward one ball after getting a bouncer from Morkel.
Pietersen threatened to play a dominating innings until he gloved a hook against Jacques Kallis three balls before the second new ball was due. It provided a second catch for AB de Villiers, who took over as wicketkeeper after the injury-enforced retirement of Mark Boucher.
Strauss's dismissal justified South Africa's decision to give the new ball to Morkel instead of Steyn. It was the seventh time in nine matches that Strauss had fallen to the tall fast bowler.
With Morkel bowling around the wicket to the left-hander, Strauss was trapped on the crease by a ball angled in to him. Umpire Steve Davis turned down an appeal by the South Africans, who called for a review which showed the ball was hitting the inside of the leg stump.
Rain delayed the start by 15 minutes and the floodlights were turned on after 25 minutes as heavy cloud rolled in. But the weather cleared and most of the rest of the day's play was in sunlight.