South Africa vs England: 4th Test, day one

At the start of the series, a player called Cook scoring a century could have been expected to result in endless articles paying glorious tribute, so it’s an undoubted irony that Stephen, on debut, would be the first Cook to reach three figures. In the way of cricket, there will be celebration at the achievement, and an accusing finger pointed at the selectors for waiting until he was 33 before picking him. In the wider scheme of things, it may yet matter little, but the achievement of a Test century cannot be taken away from him, and perhaps he’ll have that late career opportunity that Chris Rogers took so gleefully with both hands. 

That South Africa don’t have another Test for six months may cause a problem with that hope, but in becoming the hundredth player to score a hundred on debut, he has made his mark.

It was a curious sort of day, and the kind that Test cricket is so good at, in that one side was utterly dominant for the first two thirds of the day, only for it to move slightly more back in the balance after tea.

England consistently bowled too short, something they are prone to do to immense frustration all round given how dangerous they look when they bowl a fuller length. Broad was once again the pick of the attack but even he failed to make the most of what movement there was, though he did more with the ball than anyone else by a distance. 

In the case of Anderson, he was unthreatening and innocuous. It’s not been a great tour for him, and he’s at the age where the whispers start about a player in decline. Given his record that’s unquestionably premature, for he’s far from the only player to have had a quiet time, notably the captain has too.

Woakes looked tidy and decent, but sooner or later he’s going to have to start taking wickets to justify his place. His batting is certainly decent, and so is his bowling. Test quality? Well perhaps, perhaps not, but in his fifth Test he’s on his fourth spell in the side, which is hardly going to help him settle in.

Moeen just has the knack of taking wickets, and that cannot be overstated, while Stokes keeps threatening to break through with his bowling without yet showing consistency. Patience is a key to all watchers.

At 237-1, South Africa were in total command, so finishing on 329-5 will represent something of a disappointment, and so it should. On a flat surface 400 is a minimum, and while they should do that, England will feel they’ve got away with it today. 

They were at least honest enough to admit it wasn’t a great day for them, which in itself is welcome given the days in the past where the approach was not dissimilar to Channel 9 commentators when assessing the chances.

Hashim Amla was again dropped early, and again punished England for it. Amla remains one of the most watchable batsmen in world cricket. Yet the malaise of the captains this series has seamlessly transferred to AB De Villiers who collected another duck.

Day one is always a wait and see day, unless one side or the other has a total catastrophe, and so it is here. But both sides have cause to be relieved and both have cause to be dissatisfied. 

Day two discussion below.