South Africa v England: 3rd Test, Day 1 – Flat

Pancakes. Flounders. Spare tyres. None of these things are as flat and soft as the pitch this Test is being played on in Port Elizabeth.

The bounce has been slow, restricting both scoring and wicket-taking opportunities, and there’s been virtually no sideways movement to trouble the batsmen. All of which made Joe Root’s decision to bat after winning the toss this morning a very simple one. You do have to feel sorry for du Plessis though, because this marks the sixth consecutive toss he has lost for South Africa. With the ability to bat first often being crucial in Test cricket, it’s no surprise that South Africa are on such a poor streak of form.

The first two sessions were a pretty turgid affair, like the pitch. South Africa were mainly ‘bowling dry’ *shudder* whilst England were slowly accumulating runs. Sibley and Crawley both eventually fell to mistimed clips which were caught by leg slip/gully, but losing just two wickets before Tea is still a welcome sign of progress for this England Test team. They are normally well into their tail by then.

Things livened up just after Tea, with Denly and Root falling in relatively quick succession. Root’s wicket in particular will interest England’s bowlers, because he was bowled by a ball which appeared to stay noticeably lower compared to other deliveries on a similar length. Stokes weathered a spell of strong bowling from Rabada and Maharaj, including several unsuccessful appeals, before settling down with Pope to see out the day with England finishing on 224-4.

One thing which has been enormously fun to see on Twitter is the suggestion (by idiots and trolls, mostly) that England’s top order have been scoring too slowly. This is very much a luxury problem, because English batsmen in recent times typically haven’t been at the crease long enough for people to worry about such things. To put this in context: This winter, England have lost their fifth wicket in their first inning for over 200 runs three times in the last five Tests. That’s the same number as they managed in the previous fifteen Tests over three seasons. This England top order, since the dropping of Roy and Bairstow, has been consistently scoring runs.

The key word here is ‘consistently’. Whilst it has been frustrating to see so many English batsmen fail to reach fifty, there have been far fewer collapses this winter than we England fans have become accustomed to. This has been especially important since England’s tail, particularly their non-Stokes allrounders, haven’t been scoring heavily with the bat recently. In 2019, England’s batsmen from 7-11 collectively averaged 13.96. That’s the first year since 2013 in which they’ve averaged less than 20, and their lowest average since 2006. England can no longer rely on their bowlers bailing them out with the bat, and so I think that this new-found cautious approach from the specialist batsmen is both warranted and welcome.

On our usual side note, South Africa actually managed to bowl all 90 overs in a day. With so few wickets and boundaries, and spin bowler Maharaj bowling a third of the overs, they actually managed to finish a few minutes early.

90 overs bowled, England comfortably batting out a full day. I could get used to this…

As always, comments on the game or anything else you fancy are welcome below.

6 thoughts on “South Africa v England: 3rd Test, Day 1 – Flat

  1. dArthez Jan 17, 2020 / 9:32 am

    Seems no one can be bothered to comment on Toss cricket. Which is the version South Africa have been played since 2016. Apparently it does get old.

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  2. Tom Jan 17, 2020 / 9:55 am

    Have to apologize to Darthez as I don’t know what Toss cricket is (I probably do, just don’t know the acronym or something like that).

    I’ve been away for a while and am slowly getting back into life. 2019 will be a year I want to forget glossed over by losing my partner of 21-years just before Christmas. She was an incredible person and, even as an American, actually learned many of the nuances of cricket during the time we were together. Flintoff and Pietersen were her favorites (I’m sure simply only due to their skills and nothing to do their looks) and together watched Stokes score his extraordinary 258 in SA in 2016. Told her then she won’t see another innings like it.

    Anyway, Really impressed by Pope today, he really looks like a test batsman and suspect he’ll end up as no. 3 in the next year or two. Crawley has talent but not so sure about Sibley, I know he got a century in the second test but think Crawley has more potential. Denly? Well, I suspect he’s being asked to play like Chris Tavare.

    Really interested to see how England bowl later today.

    Hello again to everyone, will try and stay tuned in this year!

    Tom

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    • dArthez Jan 17, 2020 / 10:01 am

      Sorry to hear about your loss.

      Toss cricket refers to: doctor the pitch, pray that you win the toss, bat first, and then win on a substandard pitch. Works a charm if you win the toss, but Faf has been pretty useless at that. On substandard pitches the toss is simply too important, and basically the result of the game can be called with reasonable certainty before the first innings is even over.

      Honestly, I would be pleasantly surprised if South Africa lose by less than 200 runs from here. And I say that as a SA supporter. That is how dismal South Africa are.

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      • Tom Jan 17, 2020 / 10:19 am

        Thanks for the explanation, Darthez. I didn’t understand SA’s idea for opening with the bowlers they did, but thought du Plessis kind of dragged things back later, but was disappointed he didn’t open with his best two bowlers. Now that there’s a partnership and England might go onto a big score I think SA are in trouble. Curious about the pitch though. Will it really get that much worse for seamers? It’s already spinning but don’t see the bounce being too much of a problem. Maybe Stokes is making it look too easy.

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        • dArthez Jan 17, 2020 / 10:33 am

          In this case, I suspect balls will misbehave from day 3 onwards, and that some of them will get out lbw to bouncers and the like. The only chance that SA have from here onwards if the pitch does not deteriorate, but even then I do not fancy SA’s chances of survival one bit, even if they bat well in both innings. In Port Elizabeth, traditionally speaking the spinner comes to the party from Day 3 onwards. That nearly 40% of the overs on day 1 were bowled by a spinner is then not too promising.

          As for why Paterson was picked? No idea. But I would not be surprised if they pick a bunch of debutants to avoid even more talent going the Kolpak route. We must not forget that Kolpakshire have a better bowling attack than whatever South Africa can muster these days.

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        • dArthez Jan 17, 2020 / 4:06 pm

          Just to provide statistical context. Only at the Wanderers 2016, did the team fielding first in a South Africa – England contest go on to win the game in the last decade (2010-2019). And that was when on day 3 England were blessed with having perfect bowling weather and skittle South Africa out for next to nothing. Not exactly something that could reasonably be foreseen at the time of the toss.

          The instance before that was Durban 2009. Where South Africa would probably lose to a Vatican XI, even if none of the Vatican XI players know what cricket is. They are that bad at that particular venue.

          The tragedy for England is now that Bess is taking wickets for fun against the weakest SA side since 1899 (not that anyone in the media would acknowledge that), that Leach will find it hard to get his spot back for the foreseeable future.

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