Tea South Africa 152 for 3 (de Villiers 29*, du Plessis 6*) v England
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Miller: South Africa steady despite last-minute changes
Steven Finn was a hasty addition to England’s South Africa tour party after shaking off his foot injury on a Lions tour, but he was the sharpest component in their Test attack as he spearheaded their challenge in the third Test in Johannesburg.
Finn took the prize wicket of Hashim Amla in an afternoon session when England, who also removed Dean Elgar, rebalanced the contest. Amla, whose double century defied England in Cape Town, was looking ominous, but he was skilfully unpicked on 40 with an excellent delivery which left him around off stump for Jonny Bairstow to hold the catch.
AB de Villiers, whose first day as South Africa captain coincided with a match-fixing allegation in South Africa’s Ram Slam t20 tournament, began enterprisingly – there is little chance that the role is about to inhibit his batting.
Finn was outstanding as England upped their game after lunch, a fast bowler brimful of confidence again, trusting his ability now to take the ball away from the right-hander, and encouraged by the bounce available at The Wanderers, a ground where not only the higher altitude sends fast bowlers heady.
England had removed Elgar three overs earlier. The second-wicket pair – Amla smooth and languid; Elgar, a nuggety batsman who creates his own friction – had given South Africa a strong position at 117 for 1, only for Moeen Ali, the only recognised spinner in a Test where pace bowling will dominate, to find enough turn to clip Elgar’s outside edge.
Ben Stokes came close to dismissing Amla on 26, signalling so emphatically for a review after bringing the ball back to strike the pads that it brooked no argument. Amla survived on an umpire’s call and, when Amla groped forward to the next ball to inside-edge the next ball to the boundary, Stokes reddened with enough frustration to light up half of Johannesburg.
Stokes did take England’s only wicket before lunch, Stiaan van Zyl succumbing to a long hop in his first over. 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 van Zyl obligingly tried to flick the third of them to the leg side and Bairstow collected a gentle skier. It was not the shot of a battle-hardened opener. Stokes looked upon his gift wicket with bemusement.
There was less fortune for England’s seasoned new-ball pairing. James Anderson was unable to build on a record at The Wanderers which had brought him only two wickets in two previous Tests and Stuart Broad, one of those most affected by the stomach bug that had ravaged the England camp – media troupe included – did well to sustain as much threat as he did. Nevertheless, they would have wanted to make South Africa play at more deliveries.
“They are climbing out of their death beds to play,” Alastair Cook, England’s captain, had said, before swiftly clarifying that “a few are not quite feeling 100%.” He has never been one for hyperbole.
The decision by de Villiers’ decision to bat first after winning a tricky toss was vindicated by the batsmen’s composure in that first session. It was one of the more interesting captaincy decisions for de Villiers to make. The pitch was a little greener than normal and the skies were overcast, but as Elgar, in particular, proved a bugbear, England’s attack failed to build prolonged pressure.
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.
De Villiers’ first morning as captain was not without disruption. Dane Vilas caught a morning flight to Johannesburg – he arrived midway through the first session – in response to an emergency call-up as wicketkeeper – the result of a knee injury to Quinton 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.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo