A 111-run partnership between Joe Root and Ben Stokes swung the third Test in England’s favour as they took control on day two.
Bad light stopped play with an hour and 20 minutes left in the day and England on 238-5.
It must have felt like déjà vu for the South African bowlers as they were mere onlookers to the Root and Stokes show, in many ways similar to the onslaught they were subjected to at Newlands when Stokes and Bairstow smashed the home team’s attack to all corners on their way to 629.
It certainly looked like South African started to panic once Stokes survived a fierce few balls by Morne Morkel first up. The Proteas had their tails up after lunch and had England against the ropes on 91-4. They were in control and needed to plant the knockout blow, but it never came.
Instead Root (106 not out) and Stokes (58) added 42 runs in the first five overs after James Taylor departed. Their fifty partnership came off 35 deliveries and the 100-partnership off just 86. The pair scored at 7.4 runs an over at one stage and the overall run-rate rocketed to more than four runs an over.
Stokes reached his fifty off 46 balls and Root played magnificently well to celebrate his ninth Test century on a pitch which offered plenty for the bowlers if you bowled it in the right areas.
Unfortunately for South Africa they completely lost the plot once Stokes got going and the flashbacks to Newlands must have prompted them to spray it all over the place. They were either too short or too full; often straying to the leg side as England piled on the boundaries.
It is well established that South Africa have a very inexperienced bowling attack but it was ironic that the youngest of the lot, Kagiso Rabada, was the best bowler on display. While the economy rates of his colleagues climbed to more than four runs an over, Rabada stayed steady and his overall economy rate never exceeded three runs.
Morkel made the crucial breakthrough when he caught Stokes off his own bowling after the batsmen top-edged a delivery that bounced more than he probably expected. It was relief for South Africa but it didn’t last long as Root continued to score freely and reached his hundred off 126 balls with a majestic drive.
Debutant Hardus Viljoen had a mixed day. He became only the second player in history to score a four with his first delivery faced and take a wicket with his first ball bowled. He got Alastair Cook with a loosener down the leg side which got a nick from the England captain before Dane Vilas took a fine catch to settle the big man’s nerves.
The bowling of all the bowlers, except Rabada, got worse as the day went on and Stokes clearly has a mental stronghold over the Proteas bowlers.
The tea interval didn’t really help despite the Stokes dismissal. South Africa would have been relieved when bad light stopped play and when it started raining, play was called off. The bowlers will have to regroup quickly and make early inroads on day three, which has been sold out at the Wanderers, if they want to stay in this game.
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