Honours even as South Africa waste starts

South Africa 267 for 7 (Morris 26*, Rabada 20*) v England
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Steven Finn removed Hashim Amla in a magnificent spell © Getty Images

England showed commendable resistance to keep South Africa in check on the opening day of the third Test at The Wanderers. A day in the field at The Bullring was an onerous demand for a squad stricken by a stomach ailment since the end of the Cape Town Test, but they recovered from an uncomfortable morning to take four wickets in the final session and leave the Test nicely balanced.

AB de Villiers was skippering South Africa for the first time and, such is the inspirational nature of his cricket, England would have been wary of the consequences as they defended a 1-0 lead in the series with two to play: another reason for queasy stomachs.

“They are climbing out of their death beds to play,” Alastair Cook, England’s captain, had said upon losing the toss, before swiftly backtracking and suggesting that “a few are not quite feeling 100%.” He has never been one for hyperbole.

Steven Finn was the sharpest component of England’s attack. A hasty addition to England’s South Africa tour party after shaking off his foot injury on a Lions tour, he spearheaded their challenge, his efforts supplemented by the tendency of a succession of South Africa batsmen to get out carelessly when well set.

Only Hashim Amla escaped such a charge. The ball that Finn unearthed to dismiss him for 40 – leaving him peremptorily from around off stump – was a key wicket, the maker of a double hundred in Cape Town unpicked when he was looking ominous. Even Cook would admit it was hard to exaggerate the value of that.

There was less fortune for England’s seasoned new-ball pairing. James Anderson went wicketless, much in keeping with a record at The Wanderers which had brought him only two wickets in two previous Tests and Stuart Broad, one of those most affected by the stomach bug that had ravaged the England camp – media troupe included – did well to sustain as much threat as he did.

The decision by de Villiers’ to bat first after winning a tricky toss was vindicated by the batsmen’s composure in that first session. As tosses go, it was one of the more interesting decisions. The pitch was a little greener than normal and the skies were overcast, but as Dean Elgar, in particular, proved a bugbear, England’s attack failed to build prolonged pressure.

South Africa will anticipate that the pitch will quicken on the second and third day when the pitch dries out and their quartet of pace bowlers – three drawn from the Highveld Lions who were so impressive on this ground in winning the domestic trophy – take the field with aggressive intent.

The manner in which England’s attack became more threatening as the day wore on encouraged that expectation. Every batsman got a start without any of them making a half-century.

De Villiers’ first morning as captain was not without disruption. Dane Vilas caught a morning flight to Johannesburg – he arrived midway through the first session – in response to an emergency call-up as wicketkeeper – the result of a knee injury to Quinton de Kock, suffered when he slipped at home the previous evening. Batting first at least spared de Villiers from having to take the gloves again until Vilas arrived – and so experiencing a fate known to club captains worldwide.

With South Africa needing an opener, JP Duminy was dropped – others can consider whether this represented a relaxation of the transformation policy: guidelines that seem to exist or not exist depending on who you speak to and what day of the week it is.

That de Villiers’ accession to the captaincy had come at a time when he is openly musing over how best to balance the demands of international cricket and franchise T20 was hardly the most encouraging sign for cricket. For all the predictions that 90,000 spectators were expected over five days, the crowd was thin and it will take big crowds over the weekend to lighten the belief that if the ICC fails to manage the game with enough conviction it will be left to market forces to determine the future.

Ben Stokes took England’s only wicket before lunch, Stiaan van Zyl succumbing to a long hop in his first over. Stokes’ first few balls were as grouchy as an old car on a cold winter’s morning – a suitable image for the tourists because back home in England the first cold snap of the winter had arrived – but van Zyl obligingly tried to flick the third of them to the leg side and Jonny Bairstow collected a gentle skier. It was not the shot of a battle-hardened opener. Stokes looked upon his gift wicket with bemusement.

The second-wicket pair – Amla smooth and languid; Elgar, a nuggety batsman who creates his own friction – gave South Africa a strong position at 117 for 1, only for Moeen Ali, the only recognised spinner in a Test where pace bowling will dominate, to find enough turn to clip Elgar’s outside edge.

Stokes came close to dismissing Amla on 26, signalling so emphatically for a review after bringing the ball back to strike the pads that it brooked no argument. Amla survived on an umpire’s call and, when Amla groped forward to the next ball to inside-edge the next ball to the boundary, Stokes reddened with enough frustration to light up half of Johannesburg.

But Finn, outstanding after lunch, removed him as England upped their game, a fast bowler brimful of confidence again, trusting his ability now to take the ball away from the right-hander, and encouraged by the bounce available at The Wanderers, a ground where not only the higher altitude sends fast bowlers heady.

De Villiers was in enterprising mood: no chance, one suspects, that this captain will be consumed by negativity because of the cares of captaincy. He rattled up 36 from 40 balls, Moeen planted into the crowd at deep midwicket, but Stokes, fresh from his batting feats in Cape Town, was showing a Bothamesque ability to take wickets with humdrum balls, as de Villiers discovered when he wafted a catch down the leg side – the fourth catch in a row for Bairstow.

Du Plessis had even more cause to berate himself. The delivery from Finn that he clipped off his hip had no devil, but du Plessis clipped it carelessly to deep backward square.

Worse followed. Temba Bavuma could be blamed for hesitation, but there was little to commend Vilas’ eagerness for a single to mid-on; Bairstow rushed to the stumps with alacrity to field the bounce from the substitute, Woakes, and complete the run out.

When Vilas was bounced out by Broad, England had every chance to polish off South Africa’s innings. But weariness had taken hold and instead Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada regrouped with 32 runs in 10 overs against the second new ball. The last ball of the day, from Broad, reared past an outside edge – a reminder for England of the challenge lying ahead.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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