On yet another frustrating day for England, as many as five top-order batsmen fell after getting a start. On a pitch that show lengthy periods of insignificant movement with the ball, most batsmen fell to lose shots. Ollie Pope, who made a return after recovering from the flu, was the only positive on a frustrating day for the visitors.
In his column for Daily Mirror, Ben Stokes called their tour to South Africa as ‘the cursed tour’. The curse moved from flu-like illness (that grasped 11 players) to physical injuries. First, Jofra Archer failed to recover in time from a sore right elbow. A bigger shock hit them when their best batsman from the second innings at Centurion, Rory Burns, picked up an injury while playing football a day before the Test.
Such was the impact of ‘the curse’ on the England side that they fielded four players aged 22 or less for the first time ever. They have also put an end to football warm-ups by putting a ban on it.
Faf du Plessis lost his fifth toss in a row as Joe Root opted to bat. It was the first time since 2002 that two right-handers opened for England. Kent’s Zack Crawley, who earlier played a Test in New Zealand, replaced Burns to open with Dom Sibley.
Vernon Philander, playing for the last time at his home ground, started in his typical surgeon like fashion. Going for just 1 run in his first three overs, Philander tested the batsmen with almost every ball. Into his third over, Crawley (4), nicked a length ball that darted away to Quinton de Kock, who took a good catch diving to his right.
Philander’s partner in crime Kagiso Rabada did not start as well as he usually does. Offering a ball at Sibley’s pads that was flicked for four in his first over, Rabada was unable to make the batsmen play as much as he would have liked. He leaked 20 runs in his first spell of six overs.
Joe Denly, in at three, looked assured in his defence. Pouncing on any scoring opportunity, he pulled a short ball from Philander easily for four. Sibley, with a reputation of being a predominantly leg-side player, provided confidence to the English camp as he hit a superb cover drive off Philander and then another one-off Anrich Nortje, who was brought in first change, for a couple.
With not much assistance from the pitch, du Plessis threw the ball back to Rabada for a second spell. Continuing good judgement around off stump, Sibley punched one past gully to bring about his highest Test score.
Just when the situation seemed under control, Rabada induced an outside edge off Sibley (34) to de Kock in his next over and provided the much-needed impetus for the hosts moving into lunch.
Post lunch, England had a sedate start. Denly, in particular, was stuck on 21 for 48 balls either side of lunch. Root, with an emphasis on rotating the strike, took a single each in first eight overs after lunch and hit his bread and butter, a back-foot punch, for four off Philander.
Introduction of Nortje in the second session provided the much-needed drama on a wicket that started appearing dead. He peppered the two batsmen by bowling bouncers, delivering most of them at 145kmph+.
First, bowling three bouncers in a row, he hit Denly on the third as he failed to duck on a rising delivery in time. In the next over, Nortje induced an edge off Root who was caught at the crease to a full-ish ball. Similar to a few occasions in the first Test, Quinton de Kock dived in front of the slips and led to the fielder at first slip (Rassie van der Dussen this time) drop the catch.
The life for Root (35) was short-lived as Nortje delivered a bouncer at 148kmph which he could only glove to an easy catch for de Kock.
While Nortje continued his short ball attack, Keshav Maharaj went past the forward defence of Denly (38), who became the third batsmen to be dismissed in the 30s.
Before Tea, Ben Stokes, in at five, hit Rabada for two boundaries - one a pull and the second a serene drive through the covers.
Post Tea, Stokes and the 22-year old Ollie Pope continued at a moderate pace, adding 35 runs in the nine overs. Pope, blessed with a picturesque technique, hit some elegant shots through the covers. The most noticeable came off Philander who also strayed on his pads and flicked for four by Pope.
Stokes, attacking Maharaj, came down the track to loft him over mid-on for a six. Nortje, in for another spell, troubled the duo. After getting hit off an awkward length, Stokes creamed him through the covers to bring up the fifty partnership.
Adding to the list of batsmen getting out after getting a start, Stokes (47), chipped an innocuous ball from Nortje straight to cover.
Jos Buttler, in at seven, started aggressively. Punching Nortje on the off-side for four, he swept Maharaj for a boundary and hit one over long-on for a maximum. The sixth-wicket pair added 29 in the six overs leading up to drinks in the third session.
Dwayne Pretorius scalped two quick wickets as Buttler (29) feathered an away going length-ball to de Kock. Later, after creaming a cover drive, Sam Curran (9) shouldered arms to a ball that crashed into his stumps.
South Africa continued rocking England once the second new-ball was taken. Philander scalped Dom Bess (0) off the first ball with the new cherry. In the next over, Stuart Broad (1), pre-empting a short ball, prepared to duck only to be late to respond to a Yorker from Rabada that shattered his stumps.
After yet another collapse where England lost 6 wickets for 48 runs, Pope started scoring briskly. He hit Rabada and Philander for two boundaries in an over each. On a day when the English batsmen suffered against the short ball, Pope executed the ramp to perfection against Rabada. He became the only batsmen to cross the fifty run mark.
If not for a big no-ball from Rabada, South Africa would have been batting at the start of the second day. Pope caught off a mistimed a pull off a short-ball only to be brought back by the umpire after the TV umpire intervened. England ended the day at 262/9 with Anderson (3*) accompanying Pope.