Curran drags England back as De Kock denied century after thrilling knock

South Africa recover from 111-5 on opening day of Test at Centurion

Day one: South Africa 277-9 (Q de Kock 95, Z Hamza 39, D Pretorius 33; S Curran 4-57, S Broad 3-52) v England

It was a day of baby-faced aggressors at Centurion. An innings of joyous abandon and 95 runs from South Africa’s Quinton de Kock did little for the health of England’s bowling attack. It was as if De Kock, who seldom looks as if he has been on the planet for 27 years, had been so thrilled with a brand new bat for Christmas he was going to play every shot in the book with it – as well as one or two never seen in the manuals.

For England Sam Curran, cherubic in appearance yet fiercely competitive in action, was invaluable to Joe Root. On his best day as an international bowler he finished with career-best figures of four for 57 .There was enough zip in the wicket and in Curran's bowling for the edges to carry. The notional fourth seamer became Root's main man. As a consequence England were able to restrict South Africa to 277 for nine after sending them into bat.

The situation is promising for England but could have been much better without that gem of a knock from De Kock. He came to the crease with South Africa ailing at 111 for five but he did not seem to appreciate the gravity of the situation; there was no thought of a grim rescue operation. He flicked or glided or stroked the ball away from his presence; initially the runs flowed from various parts of his bat at a rate of a run a ball. He seemed to be having fun, something which has not been much in evidence in South African cricket for the last six months.


It was not much fun for England out there as the heat intensified and their attack, two of whom have been laid low by flu, began to wilt. Among those struggling was Ben Stokes. To everyone's relief his father's condition had improved a little and Root was able to name Stokes in the side but it soon became apparent he was now suffering. Stokes left the field in the afternoon for a while and he did not reappear until the middle of the final session as the medical team "tried to rehydrate him". So Root was always one bowling option down.

Jofra Archer also hinted he had not completely recovered from his illness, though he was cheered by the wicket of Keshav Maharaj late in the day.

The senior citizens, back in harness for the first time since the first Test against Australia, were rock-solid reliable. Jimmy Anderson's return to the fray might have been scripted by Hans Christian, who just may be a distant, misspelt Danish relative. After a five-minute delay at the start owing to a photographer collapsing in front of the sightscreen, Anderson gingerly returned to Test cricket. His first delivery was a poor one, short and outside leg-stump but Dean Elgar contrived to feather it to Jos Buttler. Stuart Broad would keep going valiantly.

Aiden Markram, the palindromic opener, and Zubayr Hamza recovered from a shocking start until the introduction of Curran. Markram drove his first ball from the left-armer in the air wide of mid-off; he missed the next one, edged the third and then clipped the fourth into the alert hands of Jonny Bairstow at square leg.

Throughout the morning Root rotated his pacemen like a latter-day Clive Lloyd, though he wisely restricted them to short spells. Archer's first four overs cost 25, 14 of which came from a single over when Faf du Plessis cashed in but just before the break Broad struck. Hamza had impressed with his simple technique and an easy swing of the bat but now his forward prod edged a catch to Stokes at second slip.

After lunch Archer yielded runs too quickly for comfort but Curran was able to intervene once more. Rassie van der Dussen, one of two South Africa debutants, pushed hard and Root, who would have a busy and fruitful day at first slip, pocketed the catch. Du Plessis, after batting discreetly for 26 overs, departed in similar fashion.

De Kock trusted his instincts and counterattacked. Soon he took three silky boundaries off an over from Curran, who had, until then, been commendably miserly. Root introduced himself and conceded 26 from his four overs yet it was understandable he should keep himself on for so long.

De Kock sliced a lofted drive just beyond the grasp of Anderson running back at mid-off; then the impish left-hander tried three ridiculous paddle sweeps, one of which flew over Stokes’s head at slip; a more conventional edge bounced just in front of Stokes. Briefly the other debutant, Dwaine Pretorius, joined in the fun with an agricultural thump over the mid-wicket boundary against Root. It was not long before De Kock had posted his half-century from just 45 balls.

This pair had added 87 together when Curran induced Pretorius to edge once more into the reliable hands of Root just after tea. Now De Kock was more restrained alongside Vernon Philander, who has just announced this will be his last Test series. Like several of his compatriots he is expected to resurface soon in the pension plan that is English county cricket.

Three figures were on the horizon for De Kock and he began to rein himself in. Maybe he now regards this as a mistake after edging another fine Curran delivery to Buttler five runs short of his century, at which point only one baby-faced assassin was smiling. Broad's dismissal of Kagiso Rabada from the last ball of the day also conjured a weary grin from the bowler. – Guardian