South Africa’s Jekyll and Hyde display on the tour of England continued as they threatened to wave the white flag on another seamer-friendly day at The Oval, writes GARY LEMKE.
Beaten by England in the T20s and ODI series, which now seems a long time ago, departing prematurely in the Champions Trophy, and then being hammered in the first Test at Lord’s, this was turning into a miserable few months for the Proteas.
But, then things changed in the second Test as Faf du Plessis’ return as captain marked a turnaround in fortunes, suddenly South Africa were world-beaters again, and the England media rounded on Joe Root and his team after a 340-run humiliation.
A return to London, however, has again seen England go on the front foot. After two days in this 100th Oval Test, they are firmly in control.
After taking their first day total from 171 for 4, to 353 all out (although, when Alastair Cook departed early on day two at 183-5, South Africa had initially nudged ahead), South Africa were then left reeling at 61-7, and the second Test was suddenly looking like an aberration as England dominated.
Then Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada put on 53 for the eighth wicket, showing that this pitch is not a minefield and will reward those batsmen – think Cook in the England innings – who are willing to dig in for the long haul.
Collectively, Bavuma and Rabada faced 116 balls on day two for 64 runs, showing the application required, and what is possible.
In looking ahead to Friday, we described it as ‘moving day’ after England had closed at 171-4 on Thursday. And so it proved to be, with Ben Stokes again showing a liking for South Africa’s bowlers and hitting 112 off 153 balls, remembering too, that his career-best 258 came at Newlands.
A couple of things have worked against South Africa so far.
One was obviously the stomach ailment suffered by Vernon Philander, who was taken to hospital on Friday after bowling 17 overs and taking 2-32. South Africa missed the seam wizard, one of whose strengths are that he doesn’t swing the ball too much, but relies on a late wobble off the seam.
The England debutant all-rounder Toby Roland-Jones is a similar bowler, pitching at a fuller length and letting the ball deviate, and his four wickets wrecked the Proteas top order. Conversely, a bowler who swings the ball too much in these conditions is actually a liability, and Chris Morris became that man for South Africa. He was hammered for 91 runs from his 17 overs – same number as Philander – as batsmen were able to free their arms against him.
Just another Philander point. As unfortunate and untimely as his illness was, the official word was that he had ‘been unable to keep anything down for two days’. If that’s the case, on what basis did the Proteas medical staff declare him fit to play a five-day Test match?
There has also been much talk about moving Quinton de Kock up to No 4 in the order. Agreed, he’s too good to bat at No 7, but his appearance at No 4 should be on a ‘horses for courses’ approach, dependent on the state of the game. I have argued this before.
De Kock knows only one way to play. He’s an instinctive attacking player who takes on the bowling. If a team is on 140-2 and they see De Kock walking to the crease, it’s a frightening thought. In the blink of an eye he can take the game right away from you.
But, as argued before, you don’t want to expose him to seamer-friendly bowling with the total on 20-2. It’s a situation that demands more of a Jacques Kallis mentality than a De Kock approach.
On Friday, South Africa found themselves on 23-2 and De Kock came out ahead of Faf du Plessis. Sure, De Kock belted three boundaries, including two delicious off-drives – the bowling plan appeared to let him drive – and inevitably a Roland-Jones delivery squared him up and the outside edge found Stokes at gully. De Kock doesn’t play with soft hands, which is why the ball carried. He’s made a quickfire 17 off 21 balls in a situation that required the No 4 to make 50 off 150 balls.
Saturday’s forecast is again for cloud and rain, but it’s a day which should see England deciding against enforcing the follow-on, if South Africa don’t get another 27 runs, and then push on with the bat. It’s not game over just yet, but a few Proteas heroes have to stick their hands up to save face – and perhaps the series.
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