Sibley’s coming of age innings puts England in firm control

Opener finishes day unbeaten on 85 as visitors open up 264-run lead in Cape Town

Day 3 of 5: England 269 (O Pope 61no, B Stokes 47; K Rabada 3-68) & 218-4 (D Sibley 85no, J Root 61) lead South Africa 223 (D Elgar 88, H E van der Dussen 68; J M Anderson 5-40) by 264 runs.

Dominate two days in a row and a Test match victory is on the horizon. On a sultry Sunday in a country where, bizarrely, cloud cover can seem to deaden the playing surface, England’s batsmen set to work as diligently as their bowlers had on Saturday. The upshot is that England are in a commanding position at Newlands; they lead by 264 with six wickets in hand.

Even better, an architect of England’s second innings is one of the new boys. Dominic Sibley, at 24, may have many younger peers in this particular team, but this is only his fourth Test match and it is the first time that he has delivered an innings of significance.

Joe Root, at the other end for two and a half hours, was looking on admiringly as Sibley batted like a pragmatic old pro, which is exactly what he has been hired to do. Given that Rory Burns is unlikely to be fit to tour Sri Lanka, Sibley may even be considered the senior opener now. He was unbeaten on 85 at stumps.


Root was the impish presence in a partnership of 116 in the final session, which is also a source of some relief. Every team functions better when their captain is scoring runs and Root is forever under scrutiny. On this tour he has batted fluently every time he has come to the crease and he is the classiest batsman in both teams but this is the first time he has passed the half-century mark in this series.

It took him only 81 balls. However he will probably regard the fact that he departed 10 minutes before the close for 61 as a failure. This also triggered a king pair for Dom Bess, the nightwatchman, who tends not to do things by halves. He was caught down the leg side from the last ball of the day.

Despite the loss of those two late wickets this was England's day. It began pretty well as Jimmy Anderson had Kagiso Rabada caught behind the wicket from the first ball. So a hat-trick beckoned with a No 11 batsman on strike but Anrich Nortje calmly shouldered arms to a ball wide of off-stump.

Nortje would not be such an obstacle this time. South Africa added only eight more runs before he edged to Ben Stokes at second slip off Anderson.

This was Anderson's 28th five-wicket haul in Test cricket, which is one more than Ian Botham achieved and therefore the most by any Englishman. At the same moment Stokes by taking the chance became the first English fielder – as opposed to wicketkeeper – to take five catches in a Test innings.

Perhaps even more important than this little stash of records, England had a first innings lead of 46, South Africa having lost their last seven wickets for 66.

Now England's openers set about improving their career-best scores. Zak Crawley made 25 from 35 balls and hit five fours, all off the meat of the bat; so here was just a glimpse of what he can offer; he has a forthright approach, the capacity to time the ball sweetly and an awful lot to learn.

The ease with which he dispatched some over-pitched deliveries was striking but then he was tempted once more by Rabada and edged to the keeper.

His departure prompted a deceleration in England’s progress. Some might argue that the afternoon session was quite a good advert for four-day Test matches since one wicket – the first to fall in the middle session during the match – was taken for 57 runs in 28 overs.

In a five-day contest a slow session does little to harm the chances of victory. The rate was inevitably stalled when Keshav Maharaj, the left-arm spinner, opted to bowl over the wicket and into the rough outside the right-handers' leg stump. Most of the time Sibley, understandably, presented a broad left pad to counter this form of "attack".

In fact Sibley progressed slightly more quickly than Joe Denly, who would deliver yet another 30. There was a time when an England upper order batsman being regularly dismissed in the 30s was regarded as a heinous sin. Nowadays any misgivings are tinged with a certain relief that someone in the top three has got that far. For the moment Denly prompts more gratitude than exasperation for hanging in there against the new ball.

In this instance Denly was dismissed when Nortje began to explore the middle of the pitch. He hooked and the top edge was well held by Dwaine Pretorius at long leg.

By then England were 155 runs ahead and Root was in no mood to spend the rest of the afternoon kicking away deliveries from Maharaj. In fact England’s captain reverse swept a boundary from the first ball he received from the left-arm spinner, a bold statement of intent, which hinted that he has not yet been worn down by the rigours of captaincy. He did not pause to consider the flak he might receive if an ugly top edge had ensued. Instead he was going to seize the initiative.

Root’s urgency seemed to help Sibley, who clipped two consecutive deliveries from Pretorius for four; there were boundaries on the offside as well as the leg and all the while his defence was secure. He looked comfortable and at home out there, a rare combination in English opening batsmen of recent vintage.

It does not matter a bit that he is unlikely to excite the aesthetes. This felt like a watershed innings, though perhaps one should remember that in recent times this conclusion has been reached about a string of openers who are no longer required beyond county level. – Guardian