Morne Morkel removed Alastair Cook early, but Ben Stokes pushed on to 64 in the morning session on day two at The Oval.
The sides go into lunch as evenly poised as they were when they started proceedings in overcast conditions on day two, as the Proteas found two key breakthroughs, but England piled on 98 runs in the process.
Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes did well to see off a rain-interrupted period in the evening on day one as they put together 51 to help England to 171-4 by stumps. Considering the way the ball was swinging around and moving off the surface, Cook’s overnight 82 was a decent effort.
The bowlers piled on the pressure throughout as Morne Morkel (1-61) made it uncomfortable out there with his pace and bounce, while Vernon Philander’s troubling line and length constantly asked questions. Philander (2-32) continued in that fashion on day two, but he could only bowl five overs due to the stomach problems that caused him to go on and off the field on Thursday.
It meant that most of the work had to be done by Morkel and Kagiso Rabada (2-60), with Chris Morris (1-68) struggling to control the swing with the Duke ball. Morkel would be the first to find the breakthrough, getting Cook to jump onto the back foot as the ball crashed on to his pads. An unsuccessful Cook review saw him on his way for 88.
What then followed was a crucial five-over spell for England, which saw Jonny Bairstow and Stokes amass 41 runs. It allowed them to race to a 50-run stand off just 49 balls, with Keshav Maharaj and Rabada unable to sustain the pressure. In the process, Stokes brought up his 10th Test fifty off 72 balls.
The Proteas were counting down the overs until the new ball came, and sure enough it took just four balls for Rabada to take a wicket with the new nut. The runs were drying up a bit, and the visitors cashed in, as Bairstow, who at one point raced to 30 off 33, ended on 36 off 52, edging one to Faf du Plessis in the slips for Rabada’s second wicket of the innings.
Mooen Ali (10), coming in at No 8 despite having five Test centuries to his name, held firm for the next 4.2 overs before lunch was called, with Stokes looking in good touch on 64. If the Proteas can find this breakthrough, then the tail should prove more straightforward to see off.
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