Despite fifties from Joe Root and Ben Stokes, the bowlers put in excellent shifts to keep England to 260-6 on day one of the fourth Test at Old Trafford.
The sides managed to get in a full 90 overs of Test cricket in in Manchester on Friday, despite predictions that rain would interrupt proceedings. Rain is, however, expected to play its part for the remaining four days, and the Proteas will need to show some fight in this Test to salvage a drawn series. On day one they did that relatively well, thanks to some determined and disciplined efforts from the likes of Morne Morkel (1-58) and Keshav Maharaj (1-54).
There was a bit of everything on day one. There was an excellent catch from Quinton de Kock, there was a disastrous miss from Quinton de Kock, and there were half-chances for Kagiso Rabada (2-52) and Dean Elgar that, with just a bit of luck, could easily have carried and been caught. The ball was swinging and shaping off the surface, but the outstanding player of the day was Keshav Maharaj, who applied the pressure throughout the 29 overs in what was a tricky day for the batsmen.
England won the toss and chose to bat first, with every toss won so far in this series resulting in a victory. The Proteas were dealt two blows on the eve of the contest with the news that Vernon Philander and Chris Morris were ruled out with lower-back pain. Theunis de Bruyn and Duanne Olivier (2-72) stepped in, and Olivier was the first to make an impact.
Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings navigated a difficult opening spell, thanks to some decent work from Morkel and Rabada. Almost against the run of play, Jennings would be the first to fall, as the out-of-form former SA U19 skipper edged one behind to walk for 17.
Cook and Tom Westley knuckled down and got their side to 67-1 by lunch, but the Proteas soon had Cook after the break. Noticing the pressure Maharaj was applying on the pair just before the break, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis kept him going, and it paid off, as he found a faint Cook edge for the former England captain to depart for 46. Three overs later Rabada got in on the act, thanks to De Kock’s brilliant one-handed catch after diving to his right, seeing off Westley for 29.
A 50-run stand then followed between Joe Root and Dawid Malan as they lifted their side out of trouble. On the stroke of tea, Morkel got the wicket he thoroughly deserved as Malan chased a wide one, which was edged behind to Du Plessis for 18. Just after the break, though, Morkel should have had his second.
Root was on 40 when he edged behind a superb Morkel delivery, and it should have been a regulation catch for De Kock. Amla, so used to seeing De Kock take those kinds of catches such as the one off Westley earlier in the day, remained unmoved, as the ball flew in between De Kock and Amla and hurtled towards the boundary.
Root then became the fourth-fastest Englishman to 5 000 Test runs, before going on to bring up his half-century. If there’s any major weakness to Root’s game, it’s his inability to push on and score centuries. That happened again as Olivier had his second. The ball crashed on to Root’s pads, and thinking there was some doubt because he’d strayed out of his crease, decided to review it. It was hitting middle and leg, and Root was gone for 52.
Maharaj thought he’d snared a second of his own as Jonny Bairstow got an inside edge on four, which rebounded to Elgar at slip. The umpire gave the soft signal for it to be out, but replays revealed the ball touched the ground just as Elgar got his fingers underneath it.
Bairstow (33*) survived, and he pushed on with Ben Stokes, as the pair manufactured a 65-run stand. Stokes backed up his century at The Oval with a half-century with the day’s action winding down. In the penultimate over, however, with the bowlers starting to feel hard done by that they hadn’t got more rewards for their efforts, Stokes was bowled for 58, thanks to an excellent yorker from Rabada.
It was an excellent way for the Proteas to end the day, but England will be otherwise pretty content with the way the third session played out, as they go into day two on 260-6.
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