‘Makeshift’ Proteas attack make England work hard on Day One
Day 1 of 5: England 260/6 SOUTH AFRICA turned up here on Friday morning expecting to make just one change to the starting eleven, while adding a positional switch in the batting too, with Temba Bavuma moving from no.6 to no.4 in the order.
But before play started – and already knowning they’d be without Chris Morris – South Africa then lost the services of Vernon Philander. Although Faf du Plessis said he was at “90%” of full fitness on Thursday, which meant SA was going to play an extra seamer, by the time the South African captain went to the toss, Philander was out, and the tourists had to cobble together a starting XI.
That team then included the seven frontline batsmen with Duanne Olivier coming in for Morris, and Theunis de Bruyn starting in place of Philander. Four bowlers – three seamers and the spin of Keshav Maharaj – plus some ‘fill-in’ overs from De Bruyn, Bavuma and possibly Dean Elgar (depending on the state of his injured left index finger) will have to take the 20 wickets needed to win this Test and draw the series.
All of that considered, South Africa’s bowlers did a sterling job. Morne Morkel continues to operate without luck in this series. It’s been a series where Morkel has beaten the bat on numerous occasions, bowled spells that have built pressure and gained wickets for teammates, while he’s generally taken on the role as leader of the attack.
In the absence of Dale Steyn, it’s been Morkel’s moment to shine, and if Lady Luck had smiled on him, the kinds of wicket hauls Steyn normally registers could have been his this series.
So Morkel bowled a fine opening spell first up with the new ball, beat the outside edge and generally made life difficult for England’s openers and then saw Olivier pick up the wicket of Keaton Jennings.
After lunch it was Kagiso Rabada and Maharaj who put the squeeze on England, with Rabada producing his best bowling of the series and in one spell from the newly-named James Anderson End he was desperately unfortunate not to dismiss the England captain Joe Root.
He shifted the ball away from the right hander but caused him the most trouble when he got it to dart back into Root – generating some close appeals for lbw, including one the South Africans asked the TV official – Joel Wilson – to assess, but the on-field decision was upheld with the ball kissing the top of the leg bail.
Morkel bowled the next spell at the End and should have had Root caught behind – Lady Luck not in his corner – when he found a thick edge Quintessential Quinton Duanne Olivier bailed De Kock out with his dismissal of Joe Root – which meant De Kcok’s earlier error, ‘only’ cost 12 runs when the wicketkeeper failed to move his hands to his right after the England captain had edged Morkel at the end of a fine over. De Kock’s kept well all series and continued doing so here – that miss of Root aside – taking three very good catches, including a stunning one handed effort diving to his to get rid of Westley. That dismissal was his 100th in Tests – his 93rd catch. Only Adam Gilchrist has gotten to 100 dismissals quicker, doing so in 22 Tests, while De Kock tied Mark Boucher, in achieving the landmark in his 23rd Test. Quote “As far as Vernon Philander is concerned, you have to start asking questions about the fitness of the man. He can’t seem to get through series’s anymore. There’s no doubting his skills, he’s a great bowler, but he lets himself down with all these niggles, which makes it hard to build a team, it makes things very challenging.” – Graeme Smith on Test Match Special but Quinton de Kock didn’t move – a less athletic move to his right required than the spectacular catch he took to dismiss Tom Westley. A furious Morkel stomped the earth, another build- up of pressure from him bringing no reward. Instead Olivier, having received some stern words from Du Plessis, induced a false stroke from Root, trapping him lbw for 52 – the 10th time in a row Root has scored at least 50 in an innings of a Test match.
All the while Maharaj wheeled away at the Statham End, giving little away, and on the odd occasion generating chances through his crafty changes of pace and spin.
If South Africa could have had the wicket of Jonny Bairstow three overs later the whole first day could have belonged to them. Instead Wilson, after being asked to check if Dean Elgar had got his hands underneath the ball when Bairstow edged Maharaj to him at slip, said the ball had bounced in front of the fielder. Ex- players like Graeme Swann and Michael Atherton believed the catch had been completed cleanly but, the angles of the cameras being what they are, were never in support of the fielder.
Ben Stokes was starting to turn the day England’s way, with a technically proficient half- century, until Rabada returned and ripped through his defences with a stunning yorker in the penultimate over of the day. England with Moeen Ali still to come and Bairstow on 34, will still feel they are ahead of the game, but South Africa will be pleased with their hard work in the face of some unexpected adversity visited upon them at the start of the day. Conditions Surprisingly sunny for Manchester. And the groundstaff deserve praise for having the outfield in good condition for play after most of it had been under water the past few days. Temperatures hovered around 20 degrees yesterday, and it is expected to be a few degrees cooler today. The pitch has been helpful for the bowlers, offering good bounce, while Rabada got it to swing during his excellent spell from the James Anderson End.