The opening day of the third Test between South Africa and England was a strange one. Runs were hard to come by as were wickets. Both teams had moments of control, and by the end of the day, neither side could claim to assume any real position of strength.
In short, it was a classic day of attritional Test cricket, with England getting off to a steady start thanks to Dom Sibley and Zack Crawley, before a middle order collapse left the visitors needing their talisman, Ben Stokes, to put up a fightback, with Ollie Pope for company.
By the time stumps were drawn, England were 224/4 after 90 overs, and both teams are well within their rights to think they hold the upper hand here.
South Africa will draw confidence from how they triggered a mini-collapse in the England ranks, the visitors losing 4 for 78 in the second session. It wasn’t a particularly helpful pitch, and the wickets South Africa claimed were largely thanks to the pressure they built by containing runs.
England, meanwhile, realised this was a dustbowl, and that finding boundaries regularly would be hard. Sibley and Crawley put on another encouraging start with a gritty stand of 70 for the opening wicket. Crawley scored a 137-ball 44 while Sibley contributed a 95-ball 36. However, more would have been expected of the likes of Joe Denly (25) and Joe Root (27).
So it was that Stokes and Pope had to put on an all-important 76-run stand for the fifth wicket to keep England in the contest, with South Africa looking for a while like they would run away with it.
That said, the home side still can. They need early wickets, though, but mornings usually present helpful opportunities to do that, especially when pitches don’t provide much assistance. The first hour tomorrow will be key.
Kagiso Rabada (South Africa): Once again, Rabada was South Africa’s most threatening bowler, the paceman taking two for 48 on the day. In helpful conditions in the morning, he will be key in dismantling England’s middle order.
Ben Stokes (England): England’s MVP is in the middle and crucially helped revive the side after a collapse in the second session. However, his job is far from done, and he will be primed to push the score ahead. South Africa will be rightly wary of him.
England 224/4 (Zack Crawley 44, Ollie Pope 39*; Kagiso Rbada 2/48) vs South Afirca
South Africa to restrict England to within 350.