— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 15, 2016
Joe Root hauled England away from danger with one of the finest Test centuries of his young career and then revealed he did it on hardly any sleep.
Root reached his ninth Test century, and just his second on foreign soil, as he defied an all-out pace attack from the world’s top-ranked side on a quickening Wanderers wicket.
Just as significantly he and Ben Stokes embarked on a counter-punching stand that stole the initiative of the day away.
But instead of swarming around an England side looking to protect their 1-0 series lead the Proteas fielders were soon sent to all parts of the Wanderers as Root and Stokes embarked on a 111-run stand from 97 balls during a pulsating 78-minute spell around tea.
While Stokes departed for a 54-ball 58, when he skied a return catch to Morkel, Root continued on to be unbeaten on 106 when bad light and rain ended play prematurely.
Root will re-start tomorrow alongside Jonny Bairstow at 238 for five – which represents a deficit of 75 runs – and with an early start due to today’s weather the Yorkshireman hopes he will have had a few more hours on the pillow than he managed last night.
“Last night wasn’t a good night I didn’t sleep at all,” he told ecb.co.uk.
“Hopefully tonight I’ll be able to get some kip in and relax really and make sure I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
The 25-year-old knows an important third morning awaits with a first-innings lead looming as vital on a pitch that Root said was showing signs of wear and tear.
“We’ve got to play well in the morning so that we get some form of a good lead and then we put them right back under pressure,” he said.
— Mark Ramprakash (@MarkRamprakash) January 15, 2016
“We’ve seen a few balls misbehave, luckily we got through that, and it’s all about getting that lead now.”
A lead appeared the furtherest thing from England minds when Root was cast into action just before lunch and, by his own admission, had to “ride the storm” of a fired up Proteas attack.
The Yorkshireman has previously looked to counter-punch when under pressure but that tactic had to wait until the arrival of Stokes as he struggled with his footwork early.
“More than anything you want to try and keep it as simple as possible and play the way that comes natural to you but in the back of your mind you are thinking: ‘Just get through to lunch’,” Root said of his mindset after arriving at the crease.
“Thankfully I managed to ride the storm a little bit. I was all over the place and my feet weren’t moving how I’d want them to be but I got back out there after lunch and it’s always slightly different.”
A calming stand of 52 with Nick Compton initially helped to settle Root down before the momentum of the day was altered on the back of Stokes’ arrival.
“It was great to form a few good partnerships out there,” said Root, who also played down fears over his fitness after he had needed treatment for cramp during the day.
“I thought Nick played really well and then the way Stokesy played was fantastic. It put them right under pressure from ball one.”
Root and Stokes are developing a reputation for taking up the initiative when under pressure – dating back to the first Test of the summer against New Zealand at Lord’s – and their clear-minded aggression was again match changing.
“We upped the scoring rate to four-and-a-half an over and that took a lot of the catchers out of the game because they had to start putting men back on the boundary which is exactly what you want on a wicket like that,” Root added.
“Fingers crossed if me and Jonny can do the same thing tomorrow and we can build that partnership again.”