Lunch England 100 for 5 (Pope 51*) vs South Africa
Elgar had announced in his final press conference before the start of the series that he was “not going to entertain” any more talk of Bazball – as England’s new approach to Test cricket has been dubbed – and the focus quickly became how Stokes’ team might tailor their preferred batting style to setting up a game in the face of a probing examination from South Africa’s four quicks.
Rabada, who had strained the medial ligaments in his right ankle earlier in the tour, was on the mark from the outset. Alex Lees got away with one ambitious swipe that flew over the slip cordon but fell in the same over, wafting away from his body to be caught behind.
Zak Crawley, retained as Lees’ opening partner despite averaging 17.75 from four previous Tests this summer, did his best to negotiate a thorough examination around off stump, largely packing away his aggressive strokes. But having squirted a thick outside edge through gully for a second boundary, he was undone by Rabada’s wobble-seam delivery, which produced just enough movement to find the edge and present a low catch to the cordon.
South Africa lost a review when asking for a second look at Lungi Ngidi’s lbw appeal against Pope, but things continued to go their way when Jansen struck in his second over. Having declined another lbw shout that ball-tracking showed would have just clipped the top of Pope’s leg stump, Nitin Menon raised his finger in the affirmative to the politest of appeals against Joe Root. DRS returned a verdict of umpire’s call and England’s former captain, who scored 190 on his previous outing against South Africa at Lord’s, was on his way.
Root has actually been usurped as England’s most in-form Test batter, with Jonny Bairstow coming into the series on the back of a stellar run against New Zealand and India. But following four hundreds in five innings, he notched the 16th duck – and the 38th dismissal bowled – of his Test career, as Nortje brought one back through the gate to rock middle stump and leave England 55 for 4.
England had only scored four boundaries during the first hour, and there was little of the buccaneering intent that brought four successive victories at the start of Stokes’ tenure as captain. But Pope took Nortje for back-to-back boundaries, and although he survived some close moments against Jansen’s left-arm inswing, he played punchily for a 69-ball fifty.
Stokes did produce a familiar charge at his sixth ball, swiping and missing at Jansen, and flirted with danger while finding the boundary four times. Pope, too, was fortunate when an edge off Nortje evaded the diving Keegan Petersen at third slip in the final over before lunch. But Nortje finished a strong morning showing for South Africa by jagging one away to find Stokes’ outside edge and end a minor recovery from England’s fifth-wicket pair.