LONDON – England assumed control of the third Test against the Proteas at The Oval on Friday morning thanks to a well crafted half-century by Ben Stokes.
South Africa’s bowlers struggled once again to find the right lines for large parts of the morning session on day two, and the tourists were further hampered by the absence of Vernon Philander for half of the session.
At lunch, England were 269/6, with Stokes on 64 and Moeen Ali on 10.
Philander bowled five overs at the start of the day, but then immediately left the field, still feeling the effects of an upset stomach that bothered him on the first day as well.
Team management said that the chances of Philander returning to the field at some point today were “not good”.
Even if he did recover, he would still have to serve time fielding – for the amount of time that he was off the field – before he can bowl.
Philander has comfortably been South Africa’s best bowler, picking up 2/32 in 17 overs and producing the kind of nagging line and length that has made it uncomfortable for all of England’s batsmen
The rest of the attack has not followed that example and have been far too inconsistent, allowing the home team too many freebies.
The guiltiest has been Chris Morris, who bowled both sides of the wicket, lost his lengths and just generally bowled without a plan.
The Proteas had started well, dismissing the obdurate Alastair Cook within 25 minutes of the start of play.
Morkel, bowling around the wicket, pinned the former England captain in front lbw, though Cook referred the decision to third umpire Kumar Dharmasena.
But with Hawkeye showing the ball clipping the top of the leg bail, on-field umpire Joel Wilson’s decision stood.
Cook’s 88 will be worth a lot to England. He occupied the crease for just under five hours and faced 200 balls, mostly in conditions ideal for bowling.
With South Africa’s bowlers feeling good about themselves after Cook’s dismissal, Stokes and Jonny Bairstow launched a very good counter-attack, helped by some loose bowling from Morris, who dished up a wide shin high full toss in his first over that Stokes hammered through extra cover.
Two more boundaries followed in that over with bowling that former Proteas captain Graeme Smith, commentating for the BBC, described as “bowling-machine deliveries”.
England scored 59 runs in the first hour at more than four runs an over, and it took the introduction of the second new ball for South Africa to achieve the breakthrough.
Kagiso Rabada got one to bounce and leave Bairstow off the pitch, and the right-hander edged to second slip, where Faf du Plessis held a smart catch.
Stokes looked imperious as he registered a 10th Test half-century. It was richly deserved reward for an innings that started in difficult circumstances on Thursday under cloudy skies.
In that period and with the ball seaming around, Stokes struggled to get bat on ball, but on Friday morning, he was the dominant player – imposing on defence and powerful when he thrashed the ball to the boundary.