MANCHESTER – South Africa had a disastrous Friday morning that started with the loss of two players and then the toss, while some good fortune that they desperately needed was also missing.
By lunch, England, who’d won the toss in the fourth and final Test, were 67/1 with Alastair Cook on 31 and Tom Westley on 19.
The Proteas were forced to make two changes to the team here on Friday, as Vernon Philander and Chris Morris were left out, owing to back injuries.
“Vernon and Chris have been struggling with injuries to their left lower backs this week. They didn’t come through their respective fitness assessments successfully, and will unfortunately not be able to take part in this Test match,” said South Africa’s team manager and doctor Mohammed Moosajee.
Duanne Olivier and Theunis de Bruyn were called, both making their second appearances in the series as they forced into going back to a starting line-up featuring seven front-line batsmen.
South Africa also listed Temba Bavuma in the No 4 spot, an elevation from No 6, with Quinton de Kock dropping back to No 6 after operating at No 4 in the last two Tests.
The tourists are 2-1 down in the series and need to win this Test to end what’s been a lousy tour on a positive note.
And they started reasonably well with the new ball, with Morné Morkel again showing excellent form as he beat the outside edges of both openers, Cook and Keaton Jennings.
The latter, who is still facing questions about his status as a Test opener, was very fortunate to survive a caught-and-bowled chance in the second over when Kagiso Rabada found the inside edge, with the ball looping up off the pad – Rabada in his follow-through actually dived past the ball.
While Morkel was bowling beautifully from the Brian Statham End, Rabada struggled with his line and length, giving Jennings a slightly easier ride than he deserved.
Morkel deserved more for his prodigious efforts, continuing some wonderful form he’s shown throughout this series.
Olivier, to his credit, bowled a lot better than was the case when he last played at Trent Bridge, and though he offered a freebie every over, he also put enough balls in the right areas against the left-handers.
He gained due reward when the hapless Jennings thrust forward gingerly and edged one behind to Quinton de Kock after scoring 17.
Jennings is averaging 18.42 in the series, and will be under the spotlight again in the second innings as England’s worries about Cook’s opening partner continue to grow.
There was more bad luck for Rabada when a top-edged hook from Cook lopped over De Kock, while Westley nearly saw the ball roll back on to his stumps when a defensive push wasn’t executed with the necessary intensity.
South Africa briefly saw Keshav Maharaj leave the field with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, but happily for the tourists, he returned shortly before lunch, bowling one delivery at Westley that spun beautifully past the right-hander’s outside edge.
A sign of the trouble the Proteas find themselves in for this Test is that Theunis de Bruyn was bowling by the 23rd over, on an overcast day on a pitch that was offering plenty for the seamers.
The players will have to raise themselves to keep pace with England for the remainder of the game.
* Vernon Philander and Andile Phehlukwayo will return back to South Africa this weekend. Ernest Kemm, Brady Barends and Francois Hassbroek will assist with 12th-man duties throughout the match.