With the first day being a rather even affair both England and South Africa were determined to swing the game firmly in their direction. South Africa resumed on 267-7 hoping to get past that magical 300 mark whereas England were looking to finish the so called South African “tail” off and quickly. There is just enough assistance coming from the pitch to continue to offer assistance to the bowlers and the weather has also made it difficult to bat, especially early on. The message to England’s bowlers? Hit the right line and length early on. For South Africa? Survive the first hour and it will get easier.
Anderson and Broad opened the bowling this morning but failed to offer anything threatening to the South African batsmen in the first couple of overs. Broad did get the breakthrough though as he got his length right in order to utilise the extra bounce from the pitch with a bit of away movement to take Morris’ edge. Gone for a valiant 28 as South Africa were reduced to 281-8. Rabada soon followed Morris to the pavilion as Anderson forces the South African to edge it through to Bairstow for his sixth catch of the game. Viljoen on debut then smashes Anderson with a lovely drive for four. South Africa defiant throughout their batting line-up as they move past 300 as Viljoen continues to play without fear and enjoying hitting Broad for back to back fours. The drama continued as Bairstow drops Morkel off Anderson only for Anderson to be taken out of the attack for running on the wicket. Broad continued to bowl pies for the batsmen to hit and England had to return to their main man Ben Stokes. Sure enough Stokes removed Morkel for just 12 runs as South Africa finished their innings on 313.
England had to bat just before lunch and batting just before lunch is a tricky affair. Both Cook and Hales have not performed to their abilities so far in this test series and that wasn’t about to change. Rabada opened the bowling for South Africa and he was on fire. Fantastic line and length with a bit of seam movement as he encouraged Hales to drive early on. It worked. Hales drove at Rabada without moving his front foot towards the pitch of the ball, drove away from his body and sent an easy catch for Morris in the slips. Cook didn’t add much to the scoreboard overall as he was caught by Vilas down the legside playing at a rather wayward delivery by Viljoen as commentators questioned Cook’s head position and his batting technique. Root and Compton negotiated a tricky period as both looked edgy and uncomfortable but managed to ensure England lost no more wickets before lunch. Resuming on 25-2 both of the English batsmen looked more at ease but South Africa were still creating problems. Morris forced Compton into an edge on six but South African captain AB de Villiers spilled a relatively easy catch moving to his left. Just as England were looking like they’d build a solid partnership Compton pushes as a delivery just back of a length from Rabada and edges it to Elgar who doesn’t give him another chance. England now 74-3 and in a spot of bother with James Taylor next at the crease.
How would he cope with the pace and bounce from Morkel this pitch? Not very well it seemed as Taylor was out for just seven thanks to an inside edge looping up as Rabada palmed the ball up in the air and took the catch with his second attempt. In comes Ben Stokes to the Bullring and he didn’t look phased at all by the fact England were 91-4 and in a precarious position. Stokes counter attacked beautifully as he helped England recover with Root at the other end. South Africa have struggled to finish England off in this series after removing their top order for very little but you can understand why when Stokes continues to bat in the way he does with so much success. Root drove Viljoen for four to reach his half century off 77 balls. Always busy at the crease and never allows himself to get bogged down as he complimented the strength and power of Stokes with some elegant shots. England reached the tea interval at 162-4.
The weather gradually worsened throughout the day as the storm that was forecast appeared to be closing in. Root and Stokes continued to bat as they had prior to the tea interval as Stokes reached his half century off 46 balls with a powerful pull shot for four. Stokes’ attacking intent can be a delight to watch but Morkel deceived the young all-rounder as he top edged a delivery he tried to work to the on-side only for Morkel to catch it. He added 58 valuable runs in a partnership of 111 in just 97 balls with Joe Root. Johnny Bairstow was the next man in as the clouds overhead darkened but Root continued to work his way towards the first century of the test. It was a century that he reached in 126 balls with a beautiful cover drive for four as he celebrated with a smile that has become synonymous with Root while he bats. Bad light eventually brought a halt to proceedings as England finished the days play on 238-5 with Root (106*) and Bairstow (4*) still there. South Africa’s lead had been reduced to just 75 runs.
Another cracking days play at the Wanderers with South Africa dominating most of the day but Joe Root’s unbeaten 100 means that today will be remembered as “The Day of the Root”.