South Africa asked for the heavy roller between innings on day two at Old Trafford, but instead it was they who found themselves flattened on another desperately poor day at the office.
This was not a 362 pitch, but neither was it a 220 for 9 pitch as the Proteas face a 142-run deficit heading into day three, with Duanne Olivier joining Morne Morkel at the crease to face Stuart Broad when play resumes.
Day one had ended with England restricted to 260-6, after opting to bat first in tough Manchester conditions and most had regarded that as honours even, although I felt South Africa had shaded the day.
However, there can be no dispute about the second day. In boxing parlance, it was a 10-8 round and the Proteas are reeling on the ropes. The weather could yet come to their aid, but there’s still so much time left in this match it’s tough to now see anything other than a 3-1 Test series defeat to go with defeats in the T20s, ODIs and a poor Champions Trophy tournament.
And the more we see in this series – 19 days of play so far – one wonders just what happened in those four days at Trent Bridge where South Africa won by 340 runs to level the series. How could they be so good for those four days and so average at every other venue?
I had regarded 320 to be a par score on this Old Trafford pitch, and at 312-9 when Jimmy Anderson joined Jonny Bairstow, that seemed about right.
But what followed was 55 balls of mayhem that took this game right out of the Proteas’ hands.
Anderson faced 15 of them, which meant that the Proteas bowled 40 balls to Bairstow. They did so in brainless fashion, relying on a plan to give him the strike and push fielders back on the ropes to give him the single and get Anderson to face.
Faf du Plessis, not his finest moment of captaincy, didn’t deviate from that plan, and Bairstow capitalised, taking well-run twos, finding the fence often enough and getting off strike with a single late in the over.
The pair added 50 in those 55 balls for the 10th wicket. Bairstow fell one run short of becoming England’s third centurion this series, attempting a boundary sweep off Keshav Maharaj when he could have easily pushed the ball for a single and jogged through to his hundred.
The momentum had swung and England had 40 runs more than par. Which is about two Proteas top-order wickets the way the series has unfolded.
England then proceeded to work their way through a fragile South African line-up, in which Temba Bavuma stuck up his hand to be the next No 4, with a top-score of 46 off 93 balls.
After spending so much time trying to convince the South African public that De Kock is so good he can bat where he wants to in Test cricket, sanity finally prevailed, although all of Russell Domingo, batting coach Neil McKenzie and Du Plessis should come clean and let us know what the strategy is with De Kock. And more so, admit that Bavuma has a better technique to survive at No 4 in trying circumstances.
Bavuma came in at 47-2 and faced 93 balls from a fired-up England attack, spearheaded by Anderson, who finished with 4-33 off 15 overs. The nuggety South African was bowled top of off-stump, leaving a ball – another thing the Proteas batsmen haven’t been good at this series – when on 46, and his team slid to 131-4. Du Plessis quickly followed, bowled by Anderson, and then it became a procession before Kagiso Rabada and Morkel put on 33 for the ninth wicket.
In my day one report I had said that South Africa would need to handle the pressure on day two. They were unable to, and it’s hard to see them getting out of the giant hole they have dug for themselves. Rain dance everyone?
On paper, when you put the sides together in a 1 to 11 batting line-up – and including a fit Vernon Philander – there’s not much between these teams.
Obviously it’s debatable, but I’d see a combined line-up of: Cook (Eng), Elgar (SA), Amla (SA), Root (Eng), Du Plessis (SA), Stokes (Eng), De Kock (SA), Ali (Eng), Philander (SA) and then tight between two of Anderson and Broad and Rabada and Morkel.
That side has virtually equal representation on paper, and maybe even tilted slightly towards South Africa. But as we know, this great game is played on grass, not paper.
It’s also played between those three inches from from top of the eyebrows to top of the forehead. South Africa’s team balance has been wrong all along – De Kock exhibit A – and apart from that second Test revival, they’ve been bullied by an England side that had won just two of of their previous eight Tests heading into this series against opponents Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
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