England are developing a habit of going through the motions in the final Test of a series, and this is proving no different. For a side who profess a desire to be the best in the world, it’s less than impressive. The bowling was once again off colour, the fielding laissez-faire. The batting retained that intensity, but for the first day and a half, there was little to suggest it was a team who had come out on top in the series.
De Kock’s reinstatement in the team x been met with universal approval, for his late understudy at Johannesburg had done exceptionally well with the gloves, yet he answered those criticisms in the best way here, with a scintillating innings that turned South Africa’s decent position into one of substantial strength. He didn’t even have much in the way of support, except in terms of the lower order staying with him, it was all his own doing.
Stokes finished with the best of the bowling figures, but in truth no one except Broad on the first day will look back on their performance with great pleasure, and the frustration of the captain was evident.
As always in such circumstances it is then all about how the team batting second respond, and England will be content with their overnight position. Alastair Cook was had a poor series, but here looked somewhere back towards his best, and if he goes on tomorrow then the match could get extremely interesting. The concern will be that the pitch showed signs of unevenness as early as today, with Compton being desperately unlucky to receive one that whistled past his ear off a length, and then a grubber which gave him no chance whatever. If the pitch continues to deteriorate, England are going to have to bat exceptionally well to get close.
Should they do so, and with South African memories of a third innings collapse still fresh in their minds, England will look to strike, but at this stage and with such a big lead, the home team are warm favourites to win the so called dead rubber.
Hales failed to get going, and while he has made pleasant runs this series, he’s failed to get the big score that would get the critics off his back. But England need to make a decision on this, for the revolving door of openers not called Cook whenever there is a mediocre series is becoming rather busy with discarded batsmen. If a player is considered sufficiently talented then a longer stint in situ with a clear brief that the player in question is being backed might be the way to go.
Day three comments below.