Debutant Toby Roland-Jones took 4-39 to leave the Proteas struggling on 126-8 by stumps on day two at The Oval.
South Africa have been left in tatters at The Oval. It might be a different pitch to the one that saw them post 637-2 the last time they batted here, but five years on, in the south London ground’s 100th Test, they’ve been blown away by a 29-year-old debutant.
England’s 353 looked a good total. Now it looks like an excellent one. Alastair Cook did well to bat through the rain-interrupted day on Thursday to eventually score 88, and Ben Stokes (112) did even better to notch up his fifth Test century in the second session on day two.
The Proteas had nine overs to survive until tea, but Roland-Jones, given a two-over burst to gain a bit of confidence, saw Dean Elgar off for eight. While that was a disappointing setback for the visitors, what they didn’t expect was for the rookie to see off the rest of the top four, in an eight-over spell that left South Africa on 51-6 by the time he was finished.
And it gets worse for the Proteas, who are without the services of Vernon Philander. He suffered a stomach bug on day one, and the symptoms got gradually worse on day two, as he managed to bowl five tidy overs before being sent to hospital for tests. He won’t bat in this innings, at the very least.
The side had Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel to thank for chipping away at the English batting lineup. Cook was the first to go on the day as he was trapped lbw by Morkel for 88.
A brisk 75-run stand then followed between Jonny Bairstow and Stokes. While Bairstow (36) and the tail struggled to hang around, Stokes edged his way towards a century, as he assessed the match situation to near-perfection.
Stokes was on 91 when he struck one off Keshav Maharaj towards the deep mid-wicket boundary. Faf du Plessis caught it, but crashed on to the ropes in the process. The very next delivery, Stokes had three figures for the fifth time in his career with another six.
That blitz allowed England to score 22 runs for the last wicket, leaving them in a competitive position. Little did they know that it would be competitive enough to be within following-on range.
The Proteas went into the final session on 18-1. By the time Roland-Jones was done with his eight-over spell, the Proteas were left stranded on 51-6. Roland-Jones was on 4-22, and without Philander, the Proteas were a batsman short.
Heino Kuhn fell in Roland-Jones’s first over after the break, trapped lbw after trying to play across one, departing for 15. Amla, who scored South Africa’s first-ever triple century the last time he batted at this ground, gloved one behind for six after Roland-Jones got one to nip off the surface.
The 29-year-old then sent a fourth back to the pavilion, as Quinton de Kock flayed at one which went straight to Ben Stokes at gully for 17.
James Anderson was quick to get involved from there, as Faf du Plessis left one which crashed on to his pads for the skipper to walk back for one, before Chris Morris hit one straight back to Anderson to perish for two.
Temba Bavuma was the only one who displayed any sort of resistance as he kept a cool head and found a willing partner in Kagiso Rabada. The pair manufactured a vital 53-run stand to lift them away from what would’ve been the first time being bowled out for a first-innings score of lower than 100 since 1957.
With the clock winding down on the day’s proceedings, Stuart Broad produced a ripper of a delivery to remove Rabada’s stumps. Morne Morkel managed to see off the final few overs to finish the day on two, but a lot will rest with Bavuma, who will go into day three on 34, with his side trailing by 227 runs.
Photo: Philip Brown/Getty Images