South African Head Coach Mark Boucher during the press conference after day 3 of the International Test Series 2019/20 game between South Africa and England at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on 5 January 2020 © Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Everything has suddenly gone wrong for South Africa. In the space of a week they have veered from the sublime to plain average again.

There was always the fear the hosts would struggle to match the intensity of last week’s win in the nation’s capital here over New Year in Cape Town. And it showed yesterday at Newlands.

They struggled to create anything with the ball for long periods, which included a 116-run partnership between Joe Root (61) and Dom Sibley (85*) for the third wicket, as the initial analysis of the Newlands surface started to ring true. There wasn’t much in terms of seam movement on offer, and with the overcast conditions creating a cloth over Table Mountain, the pitch did not get the amount of heat required that the spinners craved.

“It did flatten out a bit, which was surprising. It happened at SuperSport Park as well. Sometimes the overhead conditions do change our wickets. Our backs are up against it, let’s be honest,” Proteas coach Mark Boucher admitted.

“I think bowling quite a bit takes it toll. There was talk in the dressing room that the ball had gone quite soft. The guys had put in quite a bit of work in the first innings already, and then didn’t get much of a rest due to our batting. That takes its toll.”   

England were not complaining though. Veteran opening bowler James Anderson (5/40) had earlier turned back the clock and looked like the bowler he was in his pomp with a 28th career “five-for” that handed the visitors an all-important 46-run first innings advantage. It has since swelled to 264 runs with the visitors heading to stumps at 218/4.

Already that seems an insurmountable task for South Africa to chase in their fourth innings. And with the target likely to grow even further with the dangerous Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler waiting in the sheds ready to be unleashed on a weary Proteas attack, the signs are ominous for Faf du Plessis’s team.

The only consolation for South Africa on a day that totally belonged to Root’s men were the two late wickets shortly before the close. Dwaine Pretorius continues to prove his value to this Test outfit. The all-rounder grabbed another crucial scalp as the shadows were lengthening when the England skipper edged behind.

The nightwatchman will always be a contentious issue in Test cricket. South Africa utilised it successfully at SuperSport Park when Anrich Nortje contributed a valuable 40. Here at Newlands, Nortje made sure England would have no such joy when he produced a lifter that Dom Bess could only manage to glove behind to Quinton de Kock.

Boucher will hope that Nortje gets another couple quickly to at least keep the target to something within the Proteas’ reach.

@ZaahierAdams

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