In terms of warm-up matches, England could not have asked for better: giving their top batsmen a good run and their bowlers the chance to let loose.
It is almost irrelevant that South Africa A are two wickets down, trailing by 243 runs at the end of day two, apart from the fact that it poses questions about South Africa’s depth. Reeza Hendricks went cheaply (19), as did Stephen Cook (1), who received good reviews from the foreign press for the way he stuck in throughout the first innings.
But England saw off the pace attack offered by South Africa A; a pace attack not short of pure speed, but battling on a slow wicket. They could have done with an all-rounder in the side, for the four specialist bowlers were given a heavy work-load: so much so that Cook had to be called in to bowl five overs of low-level medium pace.
Either the selectors were being supremely generous in giving England batting practice, or they wanted to look at more of their own batsmen.
Keshav Maharaj’s left-arm spin accounted for four wickets in England’s total of 414-6 declared, but not before Alastair Cook surged on from 36 overnight to 126 and Alex Hales affirmed his position as an opener with a solid 56. Given their base, Joe Root was freed to do what he does best, hammering 117 off 125 balls (16×4, 2×6) and Ben Stokes continued his rehabilitation with the bat, freewheeling his way to 66 off 47 (8×4, 2×6).
One of Maharaj’s victims was the South African-born Nick Compton, grandson of the great England batsman Denis Compton. Nick Compton is desperate to add to his nine Test caps, the last of which was awarded for a game against New Zealand in 2013. He was being touted as a possible replacement for Hales and while he did well in the first warm-up match against an emerging side in Potchefstroom, his 29 in Pietermaritzburg was a disappointment.
To be fair, this was not the most powerful A team ever presented, but England will be grateful for the effort they put in. South Africa’s selectors will be more interested in their charges’ application with the bat in this second innings after their woeful display in the first, in which Cook scored an unbeaten 53 in the total of 136.
Rilee Rossouw (13 not out) needs a big score, but Quinton de Kock will have to wait a while after Marchant de Lange was put in as nightwatchman.