Day 2 of 5: England 362, South Africa 220/9
MANCHESTER – In the morning, Keshav Maharaj gave a limping chase to a Moeen Ali cover drive.
In the next over Heino Kuhn, limped towards a ball on the third man giving Jonny Bairstow two when all he should have had was one.
By the time stumps were drawn, South Africa had limped to the point of oblivion in this Test and by extension the series too.
They trail England by 142 runs on the scoreboard – in their minds, though, the gap is much larger.
They gifted England about 60 runs in the morning – not just through their limp fielders, but through some limp captaincy from Faf du Plessis, a surprise given the dynamism with which he has led the side in the 12 months in which he has been in charge.
To be fair to Du Plessis, he would have expected his wicket-keeper to take a low catch offered by England’s wicket-keeper Bairstow when he had 53.
Bairstow faced another 38 balls after that miss by Quinton de Kock, ramping, driving and cutting his way to another 46 runs and taking England to a total that on this pitch – which is still providing plenty of assistance to the seamers and will give Moeen lots of help as it continues to dry out – is virtually a winning one.
Du Plessis went defensive, if you could call it that, far too soon. There had been enough plays and misses from Bairstow in the first half-an-hour of play to make it more than worth Du Plessis’ while to keep his fielders up and push for Bairstow’s wicket.
Instead he gifted him runs – a mind-boggling decision, given South Africa have to win this Test to even the series – and Bairstow and England said “Thanks very much”.
Bairstow and James Anderson shared a partnership of 50 for the 10th wicket off 54 balls.
Anderson scored four and faced just 15 balls in a 45-minute stay at the crease – an indication of how well Bairstow ‘farmed’ the strike, but also how easy South Africa made it for him.
Bairstow’s effervescent display sadly for the player and a charged-up audience ended with him becoming the 17th England player to end his innings on 99.
With the momentum firmly with England, Anderson flew in from the end that now carries his name and nipped out Dean Elgar with the third ball of the innings.
Temba Bavuma, moved up the order to No 4, and Heino Kuhn didn’t really go anywhere in the middle session.
They were tied down by some good England bowling, but also didn’t show the necessary intent of a team looking to force a positive result.
If Bavuma is going to become a long-term option in that spot, then finding a way to increase his scoring rate must be a priority.
Overall it was like the fielding and captaincy earlier, a limp batting performance.
Du Plessis and Bavuma were knocked over by Anderson in the 41st over and with them went any remote hope the Proteas may have had of turning this match around in their favour.
Du Plessis acknowledged that this tour had been a bad one for South Africa, but that to a small degree it could have been salvaged by a win here.
Instead there has been controversy over the fitness of Vernon Philander, who headed back home on Saturday night, Chris Morris has a back problem and Maharaj and Kuhn are limping about with thigh strains.
Du Plessis has had some tough times as captain – none more so than the period leading up to the Adelaide Test last November, when the cooked-up scandal over a sweet proved a major distraction.
But Saturday was his worst day as South Africa’s skipper since he took on the job in August 2016. There was little direction, poor thinking and bad execution. It was just limp.