At stumps on day two South Africa were 141-2, still 488 runs behind England’s first innings total of 629.
The rule in cricket is never judge a performance before both teams have had a chance to bat on the same surface. While it’s highly unlikely that South Africa can still win this Test, they might be able to save it, but it will require a batting effort of which they have been incapable for quite some time now.
The bad news is they have already lost two wickets. Stiaan van Zyl ran himself out for four and Dean Elgar failed to build on his good start by edging one to backward point off Ben Stokes for 44.
The latter shared a 78-run partnership with Hashim Amla, but South Africa needed them to convert it to a 100-plus partnership, something the team failed to do once in 2015.
The good news is Amla (64) and AB de Villiers (25), their two best batsmen, are at the crease and the longer they bat together the better South Africa’s chances are of staying in this match.
But we’ve been here before. Most recently in Durban last week and before that New Delhi in India where an epic ‘blockathon’ couldn’t prevent a third heavy defeat.
De Villiers was granted a second life when he got dropped in the slips by Joe Root with his score on five, but the Proteas will need a lot more luck to stay in this game.
A team’s fortunes can change in the blink of an eye. South Africa were full of hope overnight after the fourth day’s play at Kingsmead that they could maybe pull of an unlikely draw. AB de Villiers got out to the third ball the next day.
Now this is only South Africa’s first innings but considering that England scored a massive 629, the first innings will be defining. It always is. Bat well here and it gives you a chance to force a draw if you have to bat again. But implode and the task becomes impossible.
Amla’s unbeaten 64 is his first fifty in 12 innings and his highest score in 14. The last time he scored a half-century was against the West Indies exactly a year ago.
Amla has made a good start, now is the time to convert it into a big score. This wicket is still very good for batting and offers little to nothing for seamers. Another low score will be an indictment of South Africa’s poor batting and application rather than England’s exceptional bowling.
The day, however, belonged to an Englishman. Ben Stokes (258 off 198) smashed the fastest ever double-century by an England player as Alastair Cook declared on 629-6 midway through the second session.
Stokes had bludgeoned the Proteas for almost three sessions since they took the second new ball late on day one. He was on 74 overnight but reached his century in no time as he smashed South Africa’s bowlers to all corners of Newlands in an innings of brutal, aggressive force and determination. He made batting look effortless and, for the first hour of the day, batted as if this was a T20 game rather than a Test match against the supposed No 1 team in the world.
His hundred (off 105 balls) is the fastest scored in South Africa since Mitchell Johnson (103 balls) in 2009 and his double-century (off 163 deliveries) is the second fastest ever and the fastest by an Englishman.
Stokes and Jonny Bairstow’s 399-run partnership was finally broken when Stokes got himself run-out while watching how AB de Villiers dropped the easiest of catches off Kagiso Rabada’s bowling. However, De Villiers reacted quickly enough to have a throw at the stumps as Stokes was stuck outside the crease, ball-watching. As soon as Bairstow reached 150 the declaration came.
The partnership is the highest for any wicket scored in South Africa and the highest partnership for the sixth wicket in Test history.
For ball-by-ball commentary click below: