Stuart Hess at Trent Bridge
NOTTINGHAM – The bowlers initially dominated the second morning here, but some sprightly batting by Joe Root and Gary Ballance saw England gain the initiative at the lunch interval.
Six wickets fell in the first hour of play as South Africa, resuming on 309/6, were swung out by James Anderson for 335.
After England lost both openers inside five overs, Root, with a lively 52 and Gary Ballance with 26 saw England to lunch on 85/2 from just 17 overs.
Earlier, England’s leading wicket-taker Anderson wrapped up the Proteas innings in a devastating spell, picking up all four wickets in just 16 balls in a little over half an hour.
Vernon Philander, who’d played beautifully on Friday evening to score 54, lasted just five balls in the morning before getting in a tangle trying to turn the ball on the leg-side and getting a leading edge, with the ball looping to cover where Liam Dawson took an easy catch.
Keshav Maharaj was all at sea against the swinging ball and edged one to second slip, where Root took a neat catch coming forward and to his left.
Chris Morris, having played a beautiful on-drive against Anderson, also tried to flick one through midwicket, but got a leading edge which looped back to the bowler.
Morris had played in disciplined fashion to score 36.
Morné Morkel had also struck two lovely off-drives, but he eventually fell trying an elaborate cover drive which he edged to Jonny Bairstow.
It was Anderson’s 22nd Test ‘five-fer’, his seventh at this ground and his third against South Africa.
The Proteas made the perfect start, with Philander bowling a magnificent over at Alastair Cook, working the former England opener over outside off-stump, with the ball nipping one way then another.
The last ball of the fourth over came back into the left-hander, and after the third umpire was called for by the South Africans, a thin edge was detected and Cook was dismissed caught behind for three.
Morkel then dismissed Keaton Jennings with the next ball, a peach from around the wicket that drew the left-hander forward and then left him off the pitch, the ball kissing the edge of Jennings’ bat and providing Quinton de Kock with an easy catch behind.
At 3/2 South Africa were on top, but Root immediately counter-attacked taking three runs off the first ball he faced. In the eighth over against Philander he struck three fours – two through the covers and one a flashing cut that flew very close to Morris in the gully.
Root’s aggression seemed to disorientate the Proteas bowlers and rather than get their lines straighter targeting the stumps, they were too short, allowing the England captain too many freebies.
Morris’ spell was awful, his lines and lengths too short and too wide, allowing Root two easy boundaries.
Runs flowed from the England captain’s bat, and he registered the equal fastest half-century by an England skipper, matching Graham Gooch’s effort off 40 balls against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1990/91.
Gary Ballance’s suspect technique wasn’t tested enough by the South African bowlers who offered him far too much width.
The Proteas coaches will surely be instructing their bowlers to straighten their lines after lunch, and the key will be how they go about slowing down Root.