England were 138-2 and trailed South Africa by 337 runs at stumps on day two at Centurion.
Quinton de Kock’s swashbuckling innings on day two was a game-changer. While Stephen Cook and Hashim Amla batted beautifully on day one to set the Proteas up for a big score, it was De Kock’s explosive knock of 129 off 128 balls that propelled the hosts to a formidable 475. It’s thanks to De Kock that they remain in a good position to win this contest.
England ended the day’s proceedings on a positive note, with skipper Alastair Cook and premier batsman Joe Root fighting hard to construct a worthy response. And yet, the visitors will be disappointed with their overall performance, and know that they conceded 80 to 100 runs too many.
England removed Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada inside the first hour of play, and had the Proteas in trouble at 336-7. They enjoyed further opportunities, and may have dismissed South Africa for less than 380 if they had held their catches. As it was, they spurned chance after chance. Crucially, they let De Kock off the hook not once, but three times.
The 23-year-old rode his luck, and continued to attack even when he was in the nineties. De Kock scored his maiden Test ton in just 104 deliveries. The knock was a special one in every sense of the word. There were moments where he innovated and entertained, and moments when he opted to play the conventional stroke. Ultimately, he steered the Proteas to a big score that will be tough to match.
The Proteas’ middle- and lower-order batsmen should take a bow. The hosts lost their first five wickets for 273 runs. The likes of Bavuma, De Kock, Kyle Abbott, and Dane Piedt then rallied to add 202 to the final total. Bavuma and De Kock put on 62 runs for the sixth wicket. De Kock and Abbott clubbed together for 50, while De Kock and Piedt combined for 82. At long last, the Proteas are putting together partnerships with some consistency.
England suffered an early setback when Alex Hales hit Rabada straight to Piedt at point. Rabada made another important breakthrough when he trapped Nick Compton lbw. Television replays showed that the ball had kept low. There were other incidents where the ball failed to bounce as expected, incidents that suggest batting will be challenging on day three.
Thus far, Alastair Cook has looked comfortable at the crease, and has been well supported by Root. The pair will aim to set the platform for England just as Stephen Cook and Amla did for South Africa. England will hope that Ben Stokes can ignite in the same manner as De Kock to boost the visitors to a score in excess of 450.
What will give England hope is the fact that South Africa’s bowling options are limited. The hosts have come into the fourth Test with just three specialist seamers. If South Africa don’t strike early on day three and men like Morné Morkel begin to tire, the Proteas may be in trouble.
However, two or three early wickets for the Proteas on day three will ensure that the hosts remain on the front foot.
SA 1st innings 475 – Quinton de Kock 129 not out, Stephen Cook 115, Hashim Amla 109, Ben Stokes 4-86
England 1st innings 138-2– Alastair Cook 67 not out, Joe Root 31 not out, Nick Compton 19, Kagiso Rabada 2-55
England trail by 337 runs