Root hundred leads England recovery

England 238 for 5 (Root 106*, Bairstow 4*) trail South Africa 313 (Elgar 46, Stokes 3-53) by 75 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

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Viljoen enjoys dream start

Joe Root has been jostling for the honour as the No. 1 Test batsman in the world over the last six months, but his gilded reputation can only have been further elevated by a richly enterprising hundred against South Africa in the third Test at The Wanderers. He is a serious player, worthy one day in the future of being measured against the best.

It had been bittersweet applause that had greeted Root since his last Test century, against Australia at Trent Bridge in August. Five half-centuries in eight innings had done little to satisfy him as long as the hundreds went begging. As the Bullring demanded that courage and character was the order of the day, his ninth Test century was one in which he could take particular pride.

With his shambling, stiff-legged gait, Root cuts the sort of figure that makes physios want to impose emergency stretching exercises, but put a bat in his hand and he is revamped into a picture of elegance: the perfect cover drive off Chris Morris that brought up his century will have brought him shivers of satisfaction.

That such moments were hard won was emphasised, too, by the final act of a second day that ended 50 minutes before the scheduled close because of bad light and, ultimately, rain. Kagiso Rabada beat Root on the hook, skimming his helmet in the process, and while he called for fresh head gear it was enough for the umpires to withdraw light meters and beat a retreat.

It should be remarked that this is an inexperienced South Africa attack: no Dale Steyn, no Vernon Philander. Nevertheless, if if England manage to clinch the series with victory in Johannesburg, they will need to summon one of their outstanding performances of recent years. South Africa’s 313 was quite an achievement from a parlous position late on the first day of 225 for 7, but by the close that lead had been clipped to 75 with five England wickets standing.

South Africa had begun with a conviction that a change of captain, in AB de Villiers, will bring a change of fortune as they seek to peg back a 1-0 deficit in the series, but as Root and Ben Stokes cut loose, a quartet of aggressive right-arm quicks was unable to stem the tide. A fifth-wicket stand of 111 in only 15 overs, from a shaky 91 for 4, represented the boldest of counter-attacks in a Test where no other players have reached 50.

On a wonderful pitch of pace and bounce, offering opportunity for bowlers and batsmen alike, the cricket has been compelling. If all Test cricket was like this it would remove the pessimism surrounding the most traditional form of the game. Bethuel Buthelezi, who took over as head groundsman last November, and whose first job 30 years ago was cleaning the tennis courts, had cause for delight.

Hardus Viljoen made a memorable entrance to Test cricket when he claimed the scalp of England’s captain Alastair Cook with his first delivery – and on his home turf. The achievement was quite something, even if the delivery itself was unexceptional, a loosener down the leg side which Cook nibbled at, for wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, making his first appearance in a home Test, to take a diving catch.

Viljoen came with a big billing – the wild bull in the Bullring. In his two exploratory overs before lunch, he did not quite crank the pace up to the 150kph-plus of which he has been deemed capable, but he was enough of an unknown quantity for Cook, a habitual wafter down the leg side, to fall once again in a manner that has troubled him since the tour of the UAE in November. Sixty runs in five knocks left England’s captain in pensive mood when he returned to the viewing area.

To know how fast Viljoen really bowls, it might be best not to rely on a speed gun that, to judge by its inconsistent readings, had been found in a Christmas cracker. But as the day progressed predictions seemed a little overstated.

If the notable statistic went to Viljoen, much of the skill rested with Rabada. He bowled superbly for much of the day, repeatedly leaving the right-hander, beginning with a morning spell of 6-3-7-1, picking off Alex Hales by exposing a lack of footwork with one that left him slightly. Hales’ naïve drive ended up in the hands of second slip, the first single-figure score in the match. Suggestions that Rabada is interested in a brief spell in English county cricket should have coaches scrambling to find out more.

Nick Compton began with characteristic dourness. Six runs dripped by in 45 balls, at which point de Villiers, of all people, dropped an inviting chance off Morne Morkel at second slip. Compton was encouraged into a spurt forward, particularly against Viljoen, and seemed to have settled but edged a back-foot force against Rabada to second slip where this time Dean Elgar held on.

When James Taylor thrust blindly at his first ball, England looked unnerved. In an attempt to flay a boundary, his bat flew past a startled Temba Bavuma at short leg. The next time Bavuma sensed anything in his range it was the ball – arriving via Taylor’s inside edge and body – and an excellent catch at the second attempt brought Morkel the reward.

The Test was now at its most physical. Stokes, following his impact innings in Cape Town, was welcomed by two fearsome deliveries from Morkel and responded with customary vigour. Root, on 35, would have been run out by Stokes’ straight drive if Morkel had managed to get a finger on the ball; Stokes, sent back by Root as he sought a single on the on side, would have been run out by a direct hit.

Their stand, on either side of tea, revived memories of their alliance against New Zealand at Lord’s last May – a stand that introduced a more enterprising shade to England’s cricket. This time the job was far from complete when Stokes knocked up a return catch to Morkel off a leading edge. Root, bothered this time not by his stiff back, but by what appeared to be cramp on a humid day, reached the close with his hundred achieved but the Test still in the balance.

Earlier, South Africa had added a further 46 runs to their overnight 267 for 7. England broke through in the third over of the day, Morris beaten on the drive by Stuart Broad and Rabada followed to James Anderson in the following over top another wicketkeeper’s catch, a relief for the bowler who has yet to make an impression on the series after missing the first Test in Cape Town because of injury.

Anderson was removed from the attack by umpire Aleem Dar for running on the pitch – one infringement the previous night, two this morning – but his replacement Stokes immediately brought the innings to a halt when he had Morkel caught at slip.

Bairstow equalled the record for catches in a Test innings at The Wanderers, a sizeable list also including another former England keeper Jack Russell. A share of the world record eluded him, though, when he failed to hold a fast but takeable catch above his head when Morkel slashed at Anderson.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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