South Africa A 154 for 2 (Petersen 60*) trail England 456 for 7 dec. (Pope 132, Denly 103, Burns 56) by 302 runs
Ollie Pope has down-played any disruption caused by the illness that has swept through the England camp, leaving some of their front-line bowlers in a race to be fit for the Boxing Day Test against South Africa.
Pope was among a number of touring players able to cash in during the three-day warm-up against South Africa A in Benoni, bringing up his first century in an England shirt with a knock of 132 off 145 balls on day two. Earlier, Joe Denly had scored his first hundred for England with 103, Rory Burns posted 56 and Ben Stokes – a late arrival on tour after winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in Aberdeen last weekend – made 47 before the visitors declared their first innings on 456 for 7.
James Anderson dismissed opener Reeza Hendricks for just six in another positive step for the England spearhead making his way back from a lengthy absence with a calf injury, and Stokes chimed in with the wicket of Pieter Malan, bowled for 34. Keegan Petersen reached an unbeaten 60 to help steady South Africa A following a stoppage for bad light and was accompanied by Rudi Second, who was 40 not out at the close with the hosts 154 for 2 in reply.
The match had been changed from a first-class fixture to a friendly after Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad and Jack Leach were struck down by illness, which delayed their arrival in Benoni. The trio took part in a nets session on Saturday and could conceivably take part in the match on the final day, given its downgraded status, although they were expected to continue their recuperation off the field of play.
“We’ve got a few illnesses in the camp but I think they’re all on the mend and hopefully they’ll be ready for that first Test when it comes round but I’m all good and everyone on the pitch is all good as well,” Pope said.
“It’s obviously been a bit of a strange game, having this not being the first-class game so we can play a few more. We didn’t know how it was going to pan out, when the boys were going to be back fit, if they were going to be able to bowl tomorrow or not, but I wouldn’t say it’s been disruptive at all.
“The boys that have been fit and well, we’ve been able to get on with our training, we’ve had a really good week’s preparation for that first Test on Boxing Day.”
Pope did not mind his century not counting towards his first-class figures, having finally converted a strong start after scoring 88 in another warm-up match, against New Zealand A last month, followed by 75 in the second Test against New Zealand.
“It was a good feeling getting the first one out the way,” he said. “If it was the first Test it would be even nicer but it’s more a preparation for the first Test. I felt really good out in the middle, obviously I’ve got those runs under my belt but it’s all about getting ready for that first Test now.”
Pope credited the senior members of the England side with allowing newer players such as himself – he has played just four Tests – to feel comfortable immediately.
“I’ve only played four games but I think the environment the boys create in the dressing room, you automatically feel settled into the side,” he said. “Everyone is made really welcome and the bigger characters, the bigger players in the side, they sort of integrate you and you don’t know the difference between someone playing their first or their 150th game.
“I feel good in the side. It’s nice to get that first score under my belt in New Zealand and hopefully I can kick on from there.”
Expecting quicker and bouncier wickets in South Africa compared to New Zealand, Pope believed he had the game to adapt to the different surfaces and bowling attack, and he dismissed suggestions it was a good time to play the hosts, given the off-field turmoil that has seen them appoint a new coaching and administrative staff this month.
“There’s a lot of chat about that but, looking at their side, they’ve got some amazing players,” Pope said. “They’ve got a new look in their coaching staff. What goes on off the pitch I don’t think always necessarily affects what happens on the pitch, so we’re not going to take anything for granted and we’re going to expect some really strong opposition.”