LONDON – England opener Alastair Cook ground out a half-century in a tough middle session on Thursday, in which South Africa’s bowlers stepped up their aggression and accuracy snaring three wickets before tea in the third Test.
At tea on day one, England were 149/4, with their former captain Cook on 72 and Ben Stokes on 10.
Joe Root had won the toss earlier and chose to bat under cloudy skies on a pitch with a lush covering of grass, and he’d have been reasonably happy with the first session’s work as England crept to 62/1.
It took Chris Morris just four balls after the lunch break to account for Tom Westley (25), one of three debutants for the English in this third Test, when he induced the right-hander into a drive with a delivery that left him off the pitch, with Faf du Plessis clutching a good catch at second slip.
Morris bowled some good deliveries in that spell after lunch, but he was far too erratic as the Proteas tried to build pressure.
Root’s arrival at the crease brought about an increase in England’s scoring rate – as it usually does – but the momentum of the session turned around thanks to a superb spell from Morné Morkel bowling from the Pavilion End.
The tall fast bowler’s lengths had been too short in the first session, but he fixed that after lunch, bowling slightly fuller and getting his line more towards off-stump.
In a three-over burst at Root, he had England’s captain all at sea, beating him three times in over and darting another into him, bruising his right leg.
At the other end, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj had Cook tied down, increasing the pressure still further. The over thereafter was also high in quality, and Root was completely put off his rhythm.
Vernon Philander, who bowled just four overs in the morning before being forced to leave the field with what was termed a “tummy bug”, had to wait until an hour after lunch to bowl.
But as soon as he was available, Du Plessis took Morkel off and brought Philander on after the drinks.
With the eighth ball of that spell, Philander produced a “jaffer” that seamed away from the right-hander, squaring up Root.
The ball found the edge and wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock took a magnificent catch one-handed, diving to his right, to dismiss Root for 29.
The second of England’s three debutants, Dawid Malan – who attended Paarl Boys’ High – looked all at sea against Philander and Rabada, and the latter produced a stunning yorker to knock back off-stump – and felling Malan in the process – leaving England on 120/4.
They proceeded to the break on 149/4 off 52 overs.
South Africa’s bowlers, bar perhaps Morris, all showed greater disciplines after lunch, having struggled with their lines and lengths in the first session.