LONDON – South Africa were 10 minutes away from having a reasonable day on Friday.
They are still well behind in this Test, their carelessness on day one and then thoughtlessness in the 23 minutes Stuart Broad (57 not out) and James Anderson (12) were sharing a 10th-wicket stand of 45 proving costly as England reached 458 on day two at Lord’s.
But Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma led a composed fight back through most of the final session, and had that pair been able to resume on Saturday morning, the Proteas would have felt a lot better about themselves.
As it was however, with 10 minutes of play left, Anderson, who finally got the ball to swing in his third spell – his first from the Nursery End – induced a false drive from De Bruyn that the tall right-hander edged behind for 48 (85 balls, 6x4).
It was nevertheless a very good innings by De Bruyn, playing in just his second Test, and that fifth-wicket partnership of 99 with Bavuma (48 not out off 102 balls, 8x4) has kept South Africa clinging on to England in this match as the Proteas finished the day on 214/5 off 68 overs, still 244 behind on the first innings.
After that frenetic first session in which the home team scored at a rate of five runs an over, the Proteas’ response was more sedate.
That was partly down to England’s bowling being a whole lot better than South Africa – which had been especially poor since the halfway point of the first day – while the visitors also batted with greater care, perhaps aware that some in their line-up weren’t in the best of form.
Heino Kuhn’s edginess on debut was understandable, and he failed a searching examination from Broad (2/27 in 14 overs), who was outstanding with both bat and ball on Friday.
Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla gradually asserted themselves during their partnership of 72 for the second wicket.
Elgar displayed the look of a man in form after his very successful three-month stint with Somerset.
He’d scored two centuries in the County Championship – one of those a big hundred at this venue – and for most of his innings, he looked in control. His driving down the ground was a joy to behold, not something normally associated with someone known more for his grit than his aesthetics.
Unfortunately for Elgar, he was dismissed just when he was well set for 54 (118 balls, 8x4), the second of three wickets in a mini-collapse either side of the tea interval.
The first of those was Amla, who seemed as surprised as anyone at the amount of turn Moeen Ali got to trap him lbw for 29, while there was another failure for JP Duminy (15).
The national selectors’ patience must be running thin with him now. Despite scoring two very good and important hundreds last season, Duminy’s average in his last 20 innings is just under 35. In that period, he’s been batting in the key No 4 position.
When Faf du Plessis returns for the second Test at Trent Bridge next week, there will have to be a conversation about Duminy’s spot, especially after De Bruyn’s accomplished performance in making 48 on Friday.
Bavuma once again in a high-pressure situation batted with aplomb. His defence was solid, his patience exemplary and when he chose to attack, he did so with silky elegance – the quality of some of his cover-driving drawing warm applause from an appreciative full house.
Throughout last summer, Bavuma saved his best for when the team were in trouble – the Tests in Perth, Hobart and Wellington all stand as a tribute to his fighting qualities and talent.
He’s got a hell of a big job ahead of him on Saturday. South Africa still need 44 runs to avoid the risk of being asked to follow-on, and Bavuma will need to get together with the lower-order to nurse the Proteas through to a respectable total, and limit the damage done by the careless display on the first day.