Late stand gives South Africa edge over England on first day

Unbroken eighth-wicket stand came against the new ball

England fast bowler Steven Finn in action during the first day of the third Test against South Africa at Wanderers Stadium  in Johannesburg. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

England fast bowler Steven Finn in action during the first day of the third Test against South Africa at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

 

Third Test, day one: South Africa 267-7

Until a frustrating unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 42 against the second new ball, England had fought their way back into the third Test, after an indifferent first session in the field had allowed South Africa to lay the foundations for what might yet be a significant score on a pitch on which no batsman was able to say with confidence that they had settled.

At various times South Africa were 44 without loss and 111 for one as the England bowlers strove for consistency and rhythm. For the best part of the next two sessions they set South Africa back, as five times Alastair Cook’s bowling changes paid immediate dividends. At 225 for seven, the day was evenly poised. So well did Chris Morris (26 not out) and Kagiso Rabada (20 not out) play against the new ball though, that South Africa will resume their innings on 267 for seven.

It is they who have their noses in front and it is hard to imagine that on this pitch, Morne Morkel, in particular, and the debutant Hardus Viljoen, fast and furious, with 40 wickets at around 13 runs apiece at the Wanderers this season, will not give the England batsmen a torrid time.

That England were so slow to get into the match, after a break of a week, may yet come back to bite them. There were good bowling conditions with a hard, grassy pitch and some movement in the air. Even Moeen Ali managed to get some bite and turn from the dry matting of grass. Certainly there were wickets to be had, a real opportunity to make AB de Villiers regret his decision to bat first.

Instead, the morning session belonged to South Africa as the England seamers, seduced perhaps by the new ball bounce, dragged their length back and pursued a line that allowed the batsmen to use their judgment outside off-stump, allowing too many deliveries to pass harmlessly through.

The England bowling coach, Ottis Gibson, is an old hand in these parts however, having spent a season playing for Gauteng. It needed a slightly fuller length and a straightening of line to make the batsmen play: the bowling immediately looked more threatening.

The pick of the bowlers, by a margin, was Steve Finn, who produced not just the ball of the day but perhaps of the series to dismiss Hashim Amla at at time when the former captain had started to make headway. But Ben Stokes, at the centre of things inevitably, took the only wicket to fall before lunch, and returned later in the day to remove De Villiers, who was in an imposing mood.

It was a good day too for Jonny Bairstow, who held four catches, one of them standing up to Moeen, and whose athleticism was instrumental in helping to run out Temba Bavuma, whose brilliant century lit up the later stages of the Cape Town Test.

If South Africa can ponder that they have at least got a competitive total should the conditions remain similar, then they will also need to reflect that while every batsman played themselves in as much as could be done, with everyone reaching double figures and only Bavuma failing to reach 20, none was able to go on and play the innings that may define the match. Dean Elgar’s 46 was the top score of the day.

Nor did every batsman have to be prised from the crease by excellent bowling. Instead, Stiaan van Zyl perished to the sort of flip-pull that brought about the downfall of David Warner last summer; De Villiers was late attempting to hook Stokes and got a faint glove to Bairstow; Faf du Plessis, after typical obstinacy, rather idly clipped Finn off his hips straight to a man posted at deep square leg; and Dane Vilas, a reserve wicketkeeper flown up from Port Elizabeth after Quinton de Kock suffered a knee injury at home and was pronounced unfit in the morning, top edged another bouncer, from Broad. (Guardian service)

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