The Castle Lager Proteas suspect lower order scrapped together some valuable runs to give their side what may be a competitive first innings total on the opening day of the third Sunfoil Series Test match at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on Thursday.
AB de Villiers won the toss on his captaincy debut and took the brave but correct decision to bat first under conditions that were always going to be challenging for the batsmen.
The Proteas started well, putting on 73/1 in the first session and 79/2 in the second before a flurry of wickets, including De Villiers himself, saw the Proteas subside to 212/6 in the 71st over. Many of the batsmen perished to horizontal bat strokes that had reaped a rich harvest of runs at Newlands but were always going to have a lot more risk associated with them on a Wanderers surface of variable bounce and with the bowlers benefiting from both swing and seam movement.
Hashim Amla (40 off 90 balls, 7 fours) fell to the delivery of the day from Steve Finn who was once again England’s best bowler. Had Amla not got an outside edge he would probably have lost his off-stump. Dean Elgar (46 off 122 balls, 5 fours) also fell to a good delivery from Moeen Ali but most of the rest were the victim of their own stroke selection while the run out of the in-form Temba Bavuma did not help either.
England did not bowl nearly as well as they had done at Newlands or Kingsmead but they got their fielding together and that made all the difference. Jonny Bairstow picked up the first four wickets behind the stumps and also did a fine piece of acrobatic work in the run out of Bavuma.
The England attack generally looked as though it still had tiredness issues from Newlands and the virus which left Stuart Broad way below his best did not help either. Once again Ben Stokes proved his worth as an all-rounder, picking up two wickets, and generally stepping into the Broad void.
Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada finished the day with an unbroken partnership of 42 – the third highest of the innings – that makes a total of 300 a possibility.
Quite what a competitive total will be will only become apparent when England have batted but it certainly looks competitive at this stage.