Cricket is a game of numbers. Yet, numbers can never be enough to unearth the fascinating stories lying beneath the surface. However, there is one telling stat from Johannesburg which might be sufficient to narrate the story of the second day’s play.
Mark Wood and Stuart Broad stitched a 82-run stand - the highest tenth wicket stand at the venue - to take England’s first innings total to 400. This is exactly the number of runs collectively scored by South Africa’s top six batsmen.
Quinton de Kock, promoted to number five, is still out there unbeaten at 32 but it seems to matter little as the home side once again surrendered to their England counterparts. By the end of the day, South Africa slumped to 88 for six, trailing by 312, with eyes set at another crushing defeat.
The start of the day’s play was similar to Day One. Play was delayed due to overnight and early morning rain. Once it started after a 45-minute delay, England seemed like running away with the game.
The overnight batsmen, Joe Root and Ollie Pope looked unperturbed as the South African bowlers were timid again to begin the day. Completely unfazed, the two right-handers added 50 runs in only 67 deliveries. Next, they brought up their respective fifties and then a 100-run stand.
South Africa came back after a break, the drinks break this time, arresting England’s progress through a lionhearted eight-over spell from Anrich Nortje who picked up his maiden five-wicket haul in Test cricket. England lost their next four wickets for 60 runs. South Africa were once again back in the game with Wood and Broad in the middle.
But cricket is a funny game. Broad, who has been demoted to number 11 from being an emerging all-rounder from yesteryears, found his mojo back with the bat. He, alongwith Wood, smashed the South African bowlers all over the park adding 82 runs off only 50 balls including seven sixes. The average first innings score in Johannesburg is 319. South Africa were well on course to restrict England around that figure but a maverick partnership between the duo took the visitors to the 400-run mark.
They returned the favor of the Maharaj-Paterson partnership in the previous game in every sense. The only difference was that partnership only delayed the inevitable whereas Broad and Wood have hurt South Africa's prospects in the game.
The Faf du Plessis-led side never recovered from it. Their reply was a pedestrian opening partnership between Dean Elgar and Pieter Malan. The pair added only 11 runs in the 12 overs before Tea, even when Broad and Wood had just showed that conditions are good for batting. It seemed like a courageous act of blunting the new ball until they kept batting in the same mode post tea.
Ultimately, England bowlers, who were bowling decent line and length found a ball which had Malan’s name on it. The right-hander was done by Wood’s pace (151 kph), line (marginally outside off stump) and length (full enough to induce a drive).
Two overs later, the experiment of sending Rassie van der dussen at three failed when he edged a Sam Curran delivery angling across him to Stokes at second slip. Elgar, then added to the embarrassment by gift-wrapping his wicket to the opposition prodding at a wide delivery from Stokes after battling for 24 overs to score 26.
Within six overs between over number 19 to over number 24, all the hard work done by the Protea openers meant zilch they did not have any runs on the board to show for their 18-over long vigil.
Unfortunately, the flow of wickets never stopped for South Africa. When Faf du Plessis suffered a rough lbw decision against, off a ball that surprisingly came into him, South Africa lost their fourth wicket before crossing the 100-run mark for the tenth time in their last 13 Test innings.
It became worse when they lost two more, Temba Bavuma and Anrich Nortje, still 12 runs behind the triple-figure mark as a team.
Nortje’s wicket ultimately brought the end of day’s proceedings which saw England take a giant step towards winning their second consecutive Test series in South Africa. To add a sweeter texture to it, England may want to do it with an innings victory by asking South Africa to follow on.