South Africa were 137-4 and trail England by 166 runs at stumps on day two at Kingsmead.
The Proteas are on the ropes. Their bowling unit, led on this occasion by Morné Morkel, had done well to keep them in the fight. Batsmen such as AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar have attempted to roll with the punches. However, after two full rounds at Kingsmead, the scorecard reads: South Africa 0, England 2.
England lost Alastair Cook and Joe Root early on day one, but finished the day on top. There were times on day two when the visitors lost concentration. And yet, as was the case on day one, they did well to recover and finish the day in a position of strength.
Morkel took four wickets in the first session to stall England’s momentum. After being 179-4 overnight, England crashed to 267-9.
Morkel was particularly potent in a spell after the first drinks break, dismissing Nick Compton, Moeen Ali, and Chris Woakes in quick succession. The England tail wagged to add 36 runs before Dale Steyn trapped Steven Finn lbw and end the visitors’ innings on 303. The Proteas bowlers did their bit.
But England continued to throw punches of their own. Stuart Broad was in sublime form with the ball, and received good support from Woakes, Finn, and Ben Stokes. Ali came in for some punishment initially, but eventually contributed with a key wicket. The scorecard may suggest that they don’t deserve too much praise, but the reality is such that the Proteas were fortunate not to be five or six down at the close of play.
The questions around the South African top order will persist after their performance in the first innings. England hit some good areas and bowled with intensity, but the shot selection and temperament of some Proteas batsmen left a lot to be desired.
Stiaan van Zyl left a ball that seamed back and shattered his stumps. Hashim Amla nicked three balls to the slip cordon, and was dismissed on the third occasion when Jonny Bairstow finally held a catch. AB de Villiers played well for his 49 before he too succumbed to a Broad delivery outside off-stump, and nicked off to Bairstow.
Broad’s reaction to the dismissal said it all. First Amla, and then De Villiers. It was a superb performance by the England’s new go-to man. Some feared that England might lack bite in the injury-enforced absence of frontline bowler James Anderson. Broad certainly alleviated those fears with a potent showing on day two.
The departure of De Villiers signalled another shift in momentum. Faf du Plessis conspired to throw his wicket away. Du Plessis played a rash shot against Ali, missed the ball by some way, and then turned to dive for his crease. To his, and South Africa’s dismay, the ball had already gone on to hit the stumps.
Elgar and Temba Bavuma scrapped well to ensure the hosts finished the day only four down. That said, Elgar was fortunate to survive a lbw shout from Stokes late in the day. The on-field decision was not out, and England erred in not calling for a review. The replay showed that the ball was cannoning into Elgar’s middle-stump.
The Proteas’ hopes of winning this contest now rest on the shoulders of Elgar and Bavuma. The pair needs to kick on in the first session of day three. South Africa only have one recognised batsman to come in JP Duminy. Two quick wickets in the morning could spell disaster for South Africa.
England 303 (1st Innings) – Nick Compton 85, James Taylor 70, Dale Steyn 4-70, Morné Morkel 4-76
SA (1st innings) 137-4 – Dean Elgar 67 not out, AB de Villiers 49, Stuart Broad 3-16, Moeen Ali 1-45
South Africa trail by 166 runs