Vernon Philander and Chris Morris both failed fitness assessments and missed this match with back ailments. In weird coincidence, both were injuries in the left region of the lower back.
Morris apparently hasn’t practiced all week, while Philander, according to Faf du Plessis, was rated at between 90 and 100 percent with the details of his fitness test going to determine the make-up of the team.
As it was, Philander isn’t starting at all and South Africa have been forced to cobble together a team that contains seven front-line batsmen.
A fine showing from South Africa’s left-arm spinner, whose stock continues to rise at this level. Without Philander, Du Plessis needed someone to provide control and Maharaj did an exceptional job, highlighted by him bowling unchanged from the Statham End throughout the middle session.
That was a total of 14 overs, which included five maidens, the wicket of Cook, and he conceded only 31 runs.
Duanne Olivier bailed De Kock out with his dismissal of Joe Root, which meant De Kock’s earlier error “only” cost 12 runs when the wicket-keeper failed to move his hands to his right after the England captain had edged Morkel at the end of a fine over.
De Kock’s kept well all series and continued doing so here - that miss of Root aside - taking three very good catches, including a stunning one-handed effort diving to his left to get rid of Westley.
That dismissal was his 100th in Tests and his 93rd catch. Only Adam Gilchrist has got to 100 dismissals quicker, doing so in 22 Tests, while De Kock tied Mark Boucher in achieving the landmark in his 23rd Test.
“As far as Vernon Philander is concerned, you have to start asking questions about the fitness of the man. He can’t seem to get through series anymore. There’s no doubting his skills, he’s a great bowler, but he lets himself down with all these niggles, which makes it hard to build a team, it makes things very challenging.” - Graeme Smith on Test Match Special.
Surprisingly sunny for Manchester. And the ground staff deserve praise for having the outfield in good condition for play after most of it had been under water the last few days. Temperatures hovered around 20 deg C yesterday and it’s expected to be a few degrees cooler today.
The pitch has been helpful for the bowlers, offering good bounce, while Rabada got it to swing during his excellent spell from the James Anderson End.