South Africa v England Day One – Even Steven

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The third test at the “Bull Ring” in Johannesburg saw England remain unchanged as South Africa were forced to replace Quinton de Kock due to injury. Dane Vilas his direct replacement with Dane Piedt being replaced by Hardus Viljoen the only other South African change. England enter the third test holding a 1-0 lead after their first test win in Durban and the draw in Cape Town. South Africa have won just two of their last twelve home tests against England while England have won just the once at the Wanderers. The word unpredictable comes to mind. AB de Villiers has been given the temporary captaincy after Hashim Amla stepped down after the second test. South Africa won the toss and de Villiers elected to bat first.

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Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl were the opening batsmen for South African. Elgar has been in decent form with an unbeaten 118 in the first test and couple of scores in the forties. Meanwhile van Zyl has struggled somewhat with only score score in double figures. Both batted watchfully as James Anderson bowled some beautiful deliveries to keep the South Africans from scoring freely as he was aptly supported by Stuart Broad early on. Steven Finn and Moeen Ali were brought into the attack early on but couldn’t find themselves being presented with wicket taking opportunities. Up steps the man of the moment Ben Stokes. Three balls into his first over saw van Zyl waft loosely across the line only to present Johnny Bairstow with a fairly easy catch. A relatively solid if rather uninspiring start from South Africa being broken at 44-1. Hashim Amla came in to bat at three to face Stokes and looked rather uncomfortable early on. Stokes’ pace and aggression proving too hot to handle yet again as he seems to make things happen out of nowhere. Amla survives early on and starts producing some stunning drives as Elgar continues to play the ball with soft hands as South Africa finished the morning session at 73-1.

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The afternoon session started off as it had finished. A few half chances here and there as England’s bowlers did their best to make the South African batsmen uncomfortable. Most notable moment was the decision to review an LBW appeal on Amla. DRS showed that there was not enough contact on the bails to warrant a reversal of the original decision. Amla survives for a little longer. Stokes has his back up and comes steaming in on the next delivery only for Amla to inside edge it for four. England were able to break a partnership that was starting to look very dangerous and Moeen Ali was the man to break it. Ali bowled a beauty of a delivery as he got it to turn and bounce sharply catching Elgar slightly off guard as he tickles the ball through to Bairstow. South Africa now 117-2 but soon to be 123-3 as Finn bowls just back of a full length, it nips away slightly and Amla edges through to Bairstow to take his third catch of the match so far. AB de Villiers showed his intentions early on as he looked to counter attack against England’s bowling with Faf du Plessis doing the exact opposite and trying his very best to not get out. South Africa went into the tea interval 152-3.

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It didn’t take long for Stokes to put South Africa under pressure once again after the tea interval. He gets one to bounce and rise well at de Villiers who tries to pull it but the ball ends up glancing off his glove into the rather safe hands of Bairstow. As de Villiers departed for just 36 Bavuma came in looking rather nervy despite his maiden test century in Cape Town and de Plessis had battened down the hatches. That is, until he lofted a fairly ordinary delivery from Finn up in the air for Hales to catch with consummate ease as England reduce South Africa to 185-5 and a lot of inexperienced bats to come. Vilas batted with the same urgency he showed this morning after his very late call up to the test match starting XI. He looked like a typical keeper. Busy at the crease and quick in between the wickets. Bavuma however was not so confident and quick in between the wickets. Vilas smashes the ball to mid- on and sets off immediately despite Bavuma’s uncertainty. If it wasn’t for a magnificent piece of wicket-keeping from Bairstow then it might have been close but the young keeper’s awareness and commitment meant that Bavuma’s innings was over. At 213-6 South Africa had lost their last five wickets for just 95 runs. Broad had bowled well at times despite his stomach bug problems and was rewarded with the wicket of Vilas. He bowled a delivery that wasn’t quite short enough for the pull shot but Vilas went for it anyway and ended up top edging Broad to Ali. England’s fielding and in particular their catching today is a remarkable improvement from the last test in Cape Town.

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Morris (26*) and Rabada (20*) prevented England from getting any more wickets on the first day of the third test as South Africa finished on 267-7. South Africa started off solid but couldn’t really gain any momentum after lunch as England appeared to wake up and start bowling properly. The South African lower order fought back well against a tiring attack towards the end of the days play as they work themselves towards 300 which wouldn’t be considered a bad total given the condition of the pitch. Day one belongs to England but they will need to finish South Africa off quickly tomorrow morning.