A superb day of cricket on an excellent Test pitch closed with South Africa well on their way to levelling the series, having exposed England’s batting frailties with a consummate bowling performance. The tourists went to stumps on a steady 75 for one, their bowlers having already secured a 130-run lead from the first innings that looked all the mightier for the fact that 15 wickets fell on the second day.
That figure should not be taken as a sign of a perilous Trent Bridge pitch. Rather it was a case of an unwillingness among the batsmen to dig in and be patient in conditions that provided a healthy balance between bat and ball – something that Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla proved in the final hour of the day when they put on an unbroken 57, knocking out what stuffing was left in England. The seam bowlers enjoyed regular assistance with clouds hanging low over the ground throughout the day, but too often the batsmen succumbed meekly to the challenge.
After South Africa lost their last four wickets in 38 balls at the start of the day to end on 335, England fell to three for two, recovered through Joe Root’s flowing 78, then lost their last seven wickets for 62 runs in 22.5 overs to be bowled out for 205. After Heino Kuhn failed for the fourth time in the series, Elgar and Amla completed the power shift. By the closing stages of the day, England and their captain Root looked short of answers.
Although South Africa pulled away in the second half of the day, up until then it was a compelling contest between the two sides – as well as between bat and ball. It took James Anderson just 16 deliveries to wrap up the South African first innings and claim his seventh five-wicket haul at the venue. After England successfully campaigned for a ball change before play had even begun, Vernon Philander was out to the fifth delivery of the day for his overnight 54, as he got a leading edge that looped to extra cover.
Keshav Maharaj was next, caught at slip for a duck, and after Chris Morris had taken the only runs of the morning off Anderson with a sumptuous drive down the ground for four, he closed the face on a straight delivery and Anderson took a sharp return catch. It was all over in Anderson’s next over when he had Morne Morkel caught behind, ensuring South Africa had added just 26 runs to their overnight total of 309 for six as he finished with 5 for 72.
When Philander had Alastair Cook caught behind by Quinton de Kock and Morkel inflicted the same fate on Keaton Jennings, six wickets had fallen in the opening hour and South Africa had the biggest advantage they had experienced in a match so far. Yet Root and Gary Ballance evened the scales over the next hour by adding an unbroken 82 in 77 balls, driven on by Root’s 40-ball fifty.
Yet such adventure was not sustainable on the surface so long as South Africa tightened up, which they did after the lunch break when Morkel and Philander returned. Philander squeezed one through Ballance’s gate before he could add to his 27, but the big moment came around 45 minutes later when Root’s aggression got the better of him. Morkel’s marathon spell paid off as Root went hard at a delivery in the channel and the edge was snaffled by de Kock.
The next two dismissals had nothing to do with England recklessness – they were all about Keshav Maharaj. In conditions that did not appear to suit him, the left-arm spinner outfoxed Ben Stokes as the batsman’s forward defensive yielded an inside edge that was well taken by de Kock on the bobble. While there was some question over whether the ball had grazed the wicketkeeper’s helmet before he claimed the catch, the third umpire eventually confirmed that Stokes was out for a 12-ball duck. Two overs later Maharaj spun one past a well-set Jonny Bairstow’s (45) defensive prod to knock back off-stump before swirling away in unbridled delight.
Thereafter it was a predictable procession. Moeen Ali pushed Chris Morris straight to Faf du Plessis at cover, giving a previously struggling seamer the lift he needed to go on and pick up two more wickets and finish with 3 for 38. Maharaj grabbed the other wicket when Liam Dawson top-edged a sweep shot to short fine leg, as the spinner took 3 for 21 in 10 overs. Having looked like the only bowlers who could threaten during the first session, Morkel (2 for 45) and Philander (2 for 48) finished with the less impressive numbers.
England needed swift retribution and they briefly threatened it as Anderson drew Kuhn forward and Root pouched the edge at second slip. But Elgar and Amla drew the sting out of the attack, and England responded by falling to pieces in the final 45 minutes. Put on the back foot for the first time in the series their old habits of uncertainty and inconsistency came flooding back, and it will take some turnaround from the hosts for the series not to head to The Oval squared at 1-1.
Brief Scores: South Africa 335 all out (Hashim Amla 78, Quniton de Kock 68, Vernon Philander 54; James Anderson 5/72) & 75/1 lead England 205 all out (Joe Root 78; Keshav Maharaj 3/21, Chris Morris 3/38) by 205 runs