An unbroken stand of 74 between Vernon Philander and Chris Morris countered Stuart Broad’s three wickets to allow South Africa to shade the opening day of the second Test at Trent Bridge and get their series back on track. On a day of push and shove between the two sides, the pair allowed the tourists to have the final say as they nudged South Africa’s total up to 309 for six. Although Broad threatened regularly and took 3 for 47, and James Anderson found some swing, England came up against more resistance than they encountered during their victory at Lord’s and failed to raise their game.
South Africa certainly showed that they would not be taking the defensive approach to regaining a foothold in the series. They won the toss and elected to bat on what felt like a bowl-first kind of morning – and did so in spite of their decision to swap a specialist batsman for an allrounder, with Chris Morris preferred to Theunis de Bruyn. The other changes were as expected, with Faf du Plessis and Duanne Olivier replacing JP Duminy and Kagiso Rabada.
Du Plessis’ decision to bat was a bold one given the predictions from the groundsman that moisture under the surface of the pitch would provide some early swing, and the fact that Anderson and Broad both averaged less than 20 on the ground. It was a statement that South Africa intended to lay down a marker in the match, something that they just about managed.
In the event the conditions were not overly helpful for England, even if there was some movement for the frontline seamers in their first two spells. Both sides were guilty of inconsistency though. England’s bowlers often dropped too short on a pitch where they should have been trying to get the batsmen driving, while South Africa’s batsmen often gutsed out the tough spells only to fall a little tamely.
That was the case when Dean Elgar fell to Anderson in the ninth over of the day, bunting a wide half-volley straight to point, where a sharp catch was taken by Liam Dawson. South Africa were able to recover from that point as Heino Kuhn and Hashim Amla took them through to lunch on 56 for one, with only 23 overs bowled due to a brief rain delay. By the break, Amla had gone past the 8,000-run mark in Test cricket to warm applause from a near-capacity crowd.
He was beaten a couple of times by Anderson when play resumed after lunch, but Kuhn was the next to fall after a scratchy period in which he had failed to add to his lunch score of 34. The opener had overcome his habit of not moving his feet early on, but succumbed to a second issue – bringing his bat down from the direction of the slips – as he was bowled by Broad off the inside edge.
At 66 for two South Africa looked vulnerable again, but Quinton de Kock’s promotion to No. 4 breathed much-needed life into their innings. Without playing a shot in anger, he breezed to a half-century in 59 balls, then overtook Amla moments before tea as he ensured that South Africa added 123 runs in 29 overs during the second session. Amla was granted a life in that time, when Alastair Cook put down a chance at slip off the bowling of Ben Stokes when Amla had 56.
At 179 for two South Africa were in the driving seat for the first time in the series, but de Kock (68) threw that away when he edged Broad to slip off the first ball after tea, ending his stand with Amla on 113. Amla (78) followed six overs later when he top-edged a hook from Broad to deep backward square-leg. Given that he had failed to control the hook shot all afternoon, it looked an ill-advised stroke and one that England were all too happy for him to play.
Stokes had not looked threatening in the first two sessions but in the third he made two key breakthroughs to maintain England’s momentum. Both du Plessis (19) and Temba Bavuma (20) were guilty of soft dismissals, with the former getting a faint glove on a legside delivery that was brilliantly caught by Jonny Bairstow, and the latter nicking off as he attempted to leave a ball outside the off stump. Suddenly South Africa were 235 for six, and the decision to leave out a specialist batsman looked a shade risky.
But Philander and Morris went about showing its merit. Morris (23 not out) survived many an uncertain moment, but Philander picked up from his first-innings fifty at Lord’s with another assured half-century, showing that he does not look out of place at No. 7. By the close he had made an unbeaten 54 to renew South Africa’s hopes of posting the sort of score that would allow them to dictate terms.
As they met an opponent willing to stand up for themselves for more prolonged periods, England were shown up as a touch predictable. Each session started with Broad and Anderson, but petered out to a few overs of Dawson before it became apparent that the left-arm spinner was letting the game slip too easily. In between Mark Wood was often accurate enough but lacked menace or lateral movement, while Stokes bowled too many boundary balls.
Broad and Anderson will no doubt return refreshed on the second morning with a ball that is just 10 overs old, but England look a little over-reliant on the pair to pull things back.
Brief scores: South Africa 309/6 (Hashim Amla 78, Quinton de Kock 68, Vernon Philander 54*; Stuart Broad 3-47) vs England.