With South Africa 208-6 and still needing 91 runs to avoid the follow on, England can still win this Test; however as more time is taken out of the game with tomorrow’s forecast looking less than clever alongside a dud pitch, a draw is where the smart money now lies.
England started the day looking for quick wickets and indeed got them with Dom Bess taking 3 wickets to add to his 2 yesterday evening to leave South Africa 109-5 and in a bit of strife; however that’s when the weather gods intervened wiping out the whole of the afternoon session and reducing the momentum that England had created in the first session. South Africa then batted resolutely aided and abetted by some woeful English fielding including five dropped catches to end the day looking fairly comfortable on what is a stick dog of a wicket. Naturally praise should also be given to first De Kock and then Philander, with the former the beneficiary of England’s careless fielding and the latter looking in pretty good form against England’s full time and part time spin merchants after the umpires decided it was too dark for any of England’s quicks to bowl. The most praise however should go to Anrich Nortje who batted as determinedly as any front line batsmen and kept England at bay for well over a 100 balls. I haven’t seen as good a job done as a night-watchman since well Jack Leach, but that was in a very different situation. The fact that he looked as happy as Angus Fraser chewing a wasp in doing so was even better!
As for England, Dom Bess aside, they toiled in what were less than ideal conditions for bowling. Wood bowled with fire but was naturally held back by Root bearing in mind that he could break down at any moment, Broad bowled ok and Curran was again disappointing, showing that the latter needs a lot of work if he is going to be successful in the Test arena in unhelpful conditions. Stokes came on and immediately got the wicket of the tiring Nortje leading many to question why he hadn’t be bowled earlier with the simple answer that he is not a workhorse bowler and certainly not someone we can afford to injure by bowling him too much. England were always going to leave themselves in somewhat of a conundrum by picking both Wood alongside Stokes as you wouldn’t want either of them shouldering the brunt of the bowling for fear of injuring either of them.
England’s best performer was naturally Dom Bess, who bowled some good lines and with a few different variations to ensure that the South African batsmen could never relax when facing him. There is no doubt he deserved his first five wicket haul for England and could have had a couple more if it wasn’t for the butter fingered English slip corden. England though might have a conundrum approaching with Dom Bess in the near future mind, as Bess is most definitely 2ndchoice to the spin bowler who has had unfortunately been sent home due to a horrid illness – Jack Leach, who Joe Root clearly doesn’t fancy much. With Moeen’s self-selected exile and his ‘woe betide me’ PR campaign splitting many England supporters as much as his inclusion in the team, it is quite possible that England’s first choice spinner might not have played any first team cricket by the time the first series of the summer comes around. If I were Dom Bess, I would be on the phone with my agent trying to secure a new club over the winter and for England’s sake a move to somewhere like Yorkshire could be beneficial for all concerned.
A quick word on the pitch, which I will kindly refer to as substandard. I don’t like to give groundsmen a hard time as their job is a difficult one especially in changeable conditions; however this pitch is a sticky dog of a wicket and one that is totally unacceptable for Test Cricket. There is nothing there for the quick bowlers and whilst there is spin, it is generally slow spin which gives the batsmen plenty of time to play against the turning ball. It is also not an easy pitch to score runs, hence much of the play could be classed as turgid throughout these 3 opening days. Now of course the pitch could change in Day 4 or Day 5, which is the beauty of 5 day Test Cricket, but it does seem somewhat unlikely and instead we could be in for 2 more days of attritional cricket, weather permitting.
So if England are going to win this, then we’re going to have to hope that the weather forecast for Port Elizabeth is wrong tomorrow and that the new ball can conjure something a bit different from what we have seen recently; otherwise Day 5 could be nothing more than an irrelevance.
As always thoughts and opinions on the game much appreciated.