Day 1 of 5: South Africa 309/6
WEST BRIDGFORD, England - Quinton de Kock stared intensely at the computer monitor in front of him on the dressing room balcony still wearing a look of bemused disappointment.
Fifteen minutes earlier he’d returned to the crease after tea seeking to continue the dominance he’d played a primary role in generating during an excellent partnership for the third wicket with Hashim Amla.
De Kock had been promoted to no.4 in the order, a position many feel his talents deserve. Keeping however is a physically and mentally demanding job, and allowing De Kock the extra time to rest before batting is important. Also, his contributions at no.7 had been instrumental in the success the side has had in the last year.
South Africa’s batting has been fragile though, the indecision about the opening combination has put extra pressure on Amla, and the ripple effect of that has been felt throughout the order, with the exception of De Kock, who kept rescuing them.
Here though, he was given the job in the primary position in the order and he played superbly, performing in just the manner his captain would have wanted. South Africa had started reasonably well, surviving a difficult morning session under dark clouds against a swinging ball.
James Anderson and Amla had an engaging battle after lunch, Anderson beating the bat a few times but Amla also taking advantage against the rare scoring opportunities he was offered.
Heino Kuhn had fought bravely in scoring 34 - copping blows to the hand and head - but when he was out shortly after lunch, De Kock arrived and almost immediately pulled the initiative South Africa’s way.
He ran hard for singles and his natural ability to seek out the boundary forced the England captain Joe Root to adopt a more defensive outlook. Even as England packed the off-side and Root asked his bowlers to bowl wide of off-stump, De Kock still pierced the field.
The left-hander’s dominance, allowed Amla, who became the fourth South African to pass 8000 Test runs, to play in a more measured fashion. Still, when there were boundary opportunities on offer he took them, his driving off both the back and front foot was characteristically elegant.
South Africa had scored 123 runs in that middle session at better than four an over and were in a position to make Faf du Plessis’s apparently gutsy decision to bat first look an excellent one.
But De Kock gave it away the first ball after tea, with an ill-disciplined half-hearted attempt at a deflection to a "nothing" ball from Stuart Broad, gifting Alastair Cook a simple slip catch.
De Kock was stunned by his error, the look of a kid who’d let his mum down, crossed his face as he dragged himself to the dressing room and then took up that seat and stared so hard at the screen trying to figure how and what he’d done.
As that was happening, Amla - who’d been fortunate on three previous occasions when hooking with the ball falling short of fielders - took on the same shot but this time deposited the ball safely into Mark Wood’s hands at deep backward square leg. He too wore a look of crushing disappointment at the error he’d committed.
Temba Bavuma played a nothing shot to be dismissed for 20 and all the good work of the afternoon seemed like it was being undone as South Africa lost 3/41 in 11 overs.
Having dropped a frontline batsman in Theunis de Bruyn, Vernon Philander found himself promoted to no.7 and the extra batting responsibility seemed to sit well with him, as he sought to regain the initiative for the tourists.
In Chris Morris, De Bruyn’s replacement, he found a partner willing to forego his normally attacking game and together the pair shared a vital seventh wicket stand of 74 that saw the Proteas past 300.
Broad and Anderson were superb in the first session and then after lunch, but for the most part England didn’t make good enough use of conditions by bowling too short. Broad finished with three wickets, while Ben Stokes picked up two and Anderson one.