South Africa 215 for 8 (Elgar 88, van der Dussen 68) trail England 269 (Pope 61*) by 54 runs
The narrative surrounding England’s first two World Test Championship series has been dominated by the Smiths: Steven ground them into the dirt with his runs in the Ashes, and Graeme’s appointment as director of cricket appears to have sparked new life into South Africa.
And as Dean Elgar piled on the runs with Rassie van der Dussen – who had begun to seem almost invincible, such was his ability to survive despite offering regular chances – Joe Root could have been forgiven thinking that, as far as his side was concerned, this joke wasn’t funny anymore.
But the thorn was soon out of his side, as South Africa went nowhere fast. Perhaps weighed down by the pressure of prolonged dry spells from England’s change bowlers, Elgar, Quinton de Kock and van der Dussen all gave their wickets away in the day’s final hour to squander their side’s advantage, before James Anderson struck twice with the new ball to leave South Africa eight down at the close.
Instead, still trailing by 54 runs and facing the prospect of batting last on a wicket that has proved more helpful to seamers than many had predicted, South Africa face a tough ask to get what they want this time.
England’s attempts during the morning to frustrate South Africa with a significant last-wicket partnership lasted only 17 balls, as Anderson steered a back-of-a-length ball to van der Dussen at slip to give Kagiso Rabada his third wicket, leaving Ollie Pope on a battling, unbeaten 61.
While they were profligate with the new ball at Centurion, Stuart Broad and Anderson started impressively at Newlands. Pieter Malan’s maiden Test innings was a stern challenge of his technique, and it ended quickly: after Elgar had edged the final ball of Anderson’s fourth over just short of Root at slip, Malan was drawn into fending a length ball to the same man in the same position, this time offering a simple chance.
Broad struck again in his next over, dismissing Zubayr Hamza for the third time this series thanks to a superb diving catch by Ben Stokes at second slip, and when Faf du Plessis jabbed a length ball from Anderson into the cordon it left South Africa in trouble at 40 for 3.
Dom Bess, the Somerset offspinner, nearly had a wicket with his first ball in an overseas Test, as he drew Elgar into a lofted drive that only narrowly evaded the grasp of the diving Pope at short extra cover, and Anderson looked to have trapped van der Dussen lbw early on in his innings, but he was saved on review thanks to a thick inside edge.
But as Elgar and van der Dussen began to frustrate England, the tourists proved to be their own worst enemies. Van der Dussen gloved a brutal delivery behind only to be saved by the revelation that Broad had overstepped. In fact, Broad and Stokes overstepped 12 times between them in the afternoon session despite the scorecard recording a very different story.
Van der Dussen had yet another life on 43, with Stokes dropping a tough chance at second slip to his right, and their pair soon had the highest partnership of the series and a hundred stand as Elgar nudged, pulled and tickled his way towards a third Newlands century.
But as the runs began to dry up, Elgar suffered a brain-fade. On 88, he decided to aim a fullish ball outside the off stump from Bess into the stands, and instead only succeeded in mowing it straight in the air; Root, running back from mid-off, took the catch, and England had an important breakthrough.
Much as the wicket came as a surprise given Elgar had grown in confidence and control through his innings, England had worked steadily and with real focus to remove him, like a tick from a cat’s ear. The 10.4 overs after the tea interval had cost only 16 runs, and the visiting attack had been parsimonious throughout, with the seamers operating from the Wynberg End while Bess tied things down from the other; as the brakes were put on, South Africa struggled to rein their attacking instincts in.
De Kock was keen to go from the outset, but after a couple of boundaries skied an offcutter from Sam Curran up and into the safe hands of Anderson at mid-off, and when van der Dussen gave Stokes another chance at second slip while trying to run the same bowler down to third man, England had mirrored South Africa in taking two wickets just before the new ball was due.
Anderson then struck with the new ball, getting Dwaine Pretorius to edge twice to Stokes at second slip. First, he put down a catch for the second time in the day, low down in front of him, but three balls later gobbled up a much harder chance to leave the hosts seven down and claim his fourth catch of the innings. And when the ball spooned up to Dom Sibley in the slips off Keshav Maharaj’s pad via the inside edge, England’s ascendancy was confirmed.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo