South Africa show fight after hectic late change

Lunch South Africa 73 for 1 (Elgar 28*, Amla 15*) v England
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Ben Stokes broke the opening stand in his first over © Getty Images

AB de Villiers had a satisfying first morning as captain of South Africa as England reached lunch with only the wicket of Stiaan van Zyl to show for their efforts. The Bullring was not as its most ferocious and de Villiers’ decision to bat first after winning a tricky toss looked vindicated by the interval.

It was one of the more interesting captaincy decisions for de Villiers to make. The pitch at The Wanderers was a little greener than normal and the skies were overcast, but Dean Elgar, in particular, put up nuggety resistance and England’s attack failed to build prolonged pressure in the opening session.

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.

It was no bad thing to require England to take to the field considering the stomach bug that has ravaged the camp – media troupe included – since Cape Town. “They are climbing out of their death beds to play,” Alastair Cook, England’s captain, had said, before clarifying that “a few are not quite feeling 100%.”

When England did dismiss van Zyl, courtesy of a long hop from Ben Stokes, the delivery was suitably enfeebled. 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 his third ball was obligingly flicked towards the leg side by van Zyl 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.

England must have hoped for more rewards than that. James Anderson and Stuart Broad both rang the splice of the bat in turn in the early skirmishes and Bairstow took a few rising deliveries in front of his face with the air of a man who felt that business was afoot. About the time Dane Vilas arrived after his mad dash to replace Quinton de Kock, Steven Finn was climbing one past Elgar’s outside edge. But England’s attack, a little on the short side, would have wanted to make the openers play more than they did.

De Villiers’ first morning as captain was not without disruption. Vilas caught a morning flight to Johannesburg – he arrived midway through the session – in response to an emergency call-up as wicketkeeper – the result of a knee injury to 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.

South Africa 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Stiaan van Zyl, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 Faf du Plessis, 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Dane Vilas (wk), 8 Chris Morris, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Hardus Viljoen, 11 Morne Morkel

England 1 Alastair Cook (capt), 2 Alex Hales, 3 Nick Compton, 4 Joe Root, 5 James Taylor, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Moeen Ali, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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