Vernon Philander struck twice on a rain-affected day, as England posted 171-4 on day one of the third Test at The Oval.
It was a day that the Proteas will consider theirs, after Vernon Philander, despite struggling with a stomach bug, managed to finish with figures of 2-17 from his 12 overs on a pitch that was supposed to be suited to the batsmen.
The last time the sides met at The Oval, the Proteas ended a 13-match hoodoo to win by a crushing innings and 12 runs, as Hashim Amla struck South Africa’s only triple century to date in a total that saw them amass 637-2. Sure enough, five years on, in what was the 100th Test at the famous ground, England skipper Joe Root did not hesitate to bat first.
It wasn’t quite what the hosts were expecting, however, as the Proteas got the ball to swing – at times uncontrollably – and move off the surface, and England have Alastair Cook to thank for keeping the match evenly poised on a day that saw only 59 overs bowled.
It wasn’t looking that way at first, as former U19 SA captain Keaton Jennings continued his poor run of form in English colours with a duck, following from his 0 and 3 from the Trent Bridge Test that saw the Proteas make it 1-1, courtesy of a huge 340-run victory. Jennings wafted at one outside off, which prompted Dean Elgar to take a fine low catch for Philander’s first of two wickets on the day, despite going off the field early on in the first session with stomach problems.
While Philander was bowling wicket to wicket, the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris were getting the ball to swing away in alarming proportions, and Morris couldn’t quite handle the extent of it at times. But, five balls after the lunch session, after which Cook and debutant Tom Westley had done well to build up a 50-run stand, Morris produced a peach of a delivery to tempt Westley into a drive, which could only fall to Faf du Plessis in the slips, for the 28-year-old to walk for 25.
That then brought about a fairly brisk knock from skipper Joe Root, who raced to 26 off as many balls. But this was when Morne Morkel decided to find his lengths and give Root all kinds of problems. Root could only score three off the next 30 deliveries, and with the pressure firmly on the home captain, he nicked one behind to Quinton de Kock, who took an excellent diving catch to his right for Root to walk back for 29.
Dawid Malan, one of three debutants for the English, struggled to get his Test career up and running. He took 15 balls to get off the mark, only to be bowled by a superb Kagiso Rabada yorker two balls later. He was gone for one, and the Proteas were firmly in control at 120-4.
Rain halted the Proteas’ momentum, as only eight overs were bowled in the final session, but Cook was the constant throughout the day for the English, bringing up his 85th score of fifty or more before working his way to 82 off a watchful 178 deliveries. It was a resilient display from Cook on a surprisingly tricky day for batting, and he’ll go into day two hoping to build on a 51-run stand with Ben Stokes (21), weather permitting of course, with showers expected throughout the day once again.
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