The Proteas found an early breakthrough, before Alastair Cook and Tom Westley got England to 62-1 by lunch.
England will feel like it’s been their session, especially considering the extent to which the ball has been swinging around. Philander found the edge of the woefully out-of-form Keaton Jennings, but Cook and debutant Westley withstood the pressure in assured fashion.
The Oval track is generally known as one to bat first on if you win the toss, and in what is the 100th Test at the ground, England skipper Joe Root opted to go with history at the toss. Considering that the Proteas amassed 637-2 the last time these sides met here, it was a straightforward choice.
Faf du Plessis, however, wasn’t too sure of what he would’ve gone for, and that appeared understandable with the ball swinging around as much as it did. They got an early wicket, but the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris struggled to control the extent of the assistance the conditions offered.
With scores of 8, 33, 0 and 3 going into this, former U19 captain Jennings failed again, and his place in the side is under serious doubt if he struggles in the second innings. He wafted his bat outside off in the fourth over, and Man of the Match from the second Test, Vernon Philander (1-2), had his first wicket, as Dean Elgar took a decent low catch, for the former South African to depart for a duck.
Westley, one of three debutants to feature for the English in this match, looked comfortable from the onset, helped by the experience of his Essex teammate and former England skipper Alastair Cook. It was watchful from the pair, dealing largely in boundaries as they picked off the loose deliveries.
Cook survived an lbw review off Morris, with replays showing a faint outside edge, and that was as close as the visitors got as Morris and Rabada, in particular, struggled to control the unexpected amount of swing the conditions offered. Philander was arguably under-bowled in this session, only sending down four overs, with Keshav Maharaj a surprise inclusion in the 12th over. Cook and Westley brought up a 50-stand just before the rain fell.
The weather isn’t expected to disrupt day one too much, but eight overs were lost in the first session as England go into lunch on 62-1, with Cook on 34 and Westley on 24.
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