De Kock maiden Test hundred maintains South Africa advantage

Tea England 29 for 1 (Cook 14*, Compton 0*) trail South Africa 475 (De Kock 129*, Cook 115, Amla 109, Stokes 4-86) by 446 runs
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Haysman: England have been poor

Quinton de Kock announced his arrival among the ranks of attacking wicketkeeper-batsmen to be reckoned with as he raced to an enterprising maiden Test century on the second day at Centurion.

De Kock’s return to the South Africa wicketkeeping role after a freakish accident that ruled him out of the third Test – he slipped while walking the dogs – had not been universally supported after a strong showing behind the stumps by Dane Vilas as his emergency replacement.

But that debate was silenced as de Kock’s unfettered strokeplay took full toll of a lethargic England attack that with the series already won failed to respond to the rigours of a fourth Test in as many weeks. Unlike his fateful dog walk, this time he had provided a strong lead.

De Kock remained unbeaten on 129 from 128 balls when South Africa’s innings finally came to a halt at 475. Such a breakthrough innings could not be more timely for South Africa as they seek to emerge from an uncertain period – illustrated by five changes for this Test – and establish a new-look side.

England’s reply started badly: losing Alex Hales in nine overs by tea. Hales is in danger of becoming the latest failed claimant over the past three-and-a-half years to the opening position vacated by Andrew Strauss. Unlike many other contenders, he has a limited-overs pedigree behind him, but in Test cricket his approach remains fraught with uncertainty, summed up by a weak drive at a floaty outswinger from Kagiso Rabada and a catch for Dane Piedt at cover point.

Hales, dismissed for 15, has one innings remaining to enhance a debut series that stands at 135 runs at 19.28 with only one half-century on a Cape Town featherbed.

De Kock survived two challenging catches on 28 when Ben Stokes could not hold on at gully off James Anderson and again on 90, Cook this time the culprit as de Kock drove the offspinner Moeen Ali to short cover.

De Kock was only 62 when South Africa lost their eighth wicket, but Dane Piedt provided steadfast support for more than two hours as the home side, trailing 2-0 in the series, took a firm grip on the final Test.

For all de Kock’s blithe progress, there were just enough hints of encouragement for the England bowlers to persuade South Africa that they could turn a sizeable advantage into a bridgehead for victory.

Just to add to England’s disenchantment, there was a mix-up between Jonny Bairstow, a wicketkeeper under scrutiny, and his captain, Cook, who was stood unsettlingly alongside him at first slip when an edge from de Kock, on 80, flew between them. Both could have gone for it; neither did.

The poor alignment of keeper and slip should definitely be questioned before any other factor because Cook had virtually moved alongside Bairstow so confusing their areas of responsibility. On this occasion, it was a tactical error primarily, but it was not the first chance to go astray and the dissatisfied expressions on both faces told of a distrust and disappointment that is unlikely to aid Bairstow’s cause.

England needed quick wickets at start of play with South Africa already 329 runs to the good. They missed out on de Kock, who had added only three to his overnight score when Stokes failed to hold on, but had a promising start nevertheless when Stuart Broad and Anderson struck in the first four overs, Temba Bavuma edging to the wicketkeeper and Kagiso Rabada falling lbw first ball.

Finally, nearing the end of an unrewarding tour, Anderson had made the ball swing and must even have found joy in Rabada’s decision to review the decision as it meant he could wallow in innumerable replays proving as much on the big screen. It was the only joy he found in the innings.

De Kock’s response was emphatic. A modicum of width was enough for him to flay his next two balls, from Broad, for successive off-side boundaries. A wristy late cut against Moeen signalled his half-century. When Kyle Abbott deposited his first ball from Moeen for a long-on six, and de Kock also cleared the ropes later in the over, South Africa reached drinks in exuberant mood.

Stokes silenced Abbott with a blockhole leg-before – the batsman’s review entirely pointless – but in keeping with the story of the first day England again failed to stem the flow of runs as de Kock took the total past 400.

De Kock did not dally in the 90s, again finding Moeen to his liking with a pull and drive over the top that took him to 99 before stealing a single into the covers to reach his hundred at the start of Moeen’s following over.

As much as de Kock’s success delighted a decent weekend crowd, as South Africa’s innings progressed, the Test entered a quieter phase. It was Stokes who eventually moved things on, breaking Piedt’s resistance with a rising delivery that he edged to the wicketkeeper and having the last man, Morne Morkel, lbw without scoring for his third wicket of the day and figures of 4 for 86.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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