Root, Stokes defy South Africa's pace attack, England 164-2 at tea
The Proteas were marginally ahead at tea on day two of the third test at The Wanderers on Friday as they had England on 162/4, after great bowling spells by the four-man seam attack.
Two wickets fell in the afternoon session for 135 runs as England still trailed South Africa’s first innings total of 313 by 151 runs.
The decision to leave out spinner Dane Piedt in favour of debutant Hardus Viljoen had paid dividends in the morning session already when the Highveld Lions quick took his first international wicket with his first ball.
He had England captain Alastair Cook caught by Dane Vilas down the leg side earlier in the day.
The second session was filled with choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” as Viljoen missed Nick Compton and Joe Root’s bats – the pair trying valiantly to keep the visitors in the contest with a 52-run partnership for the third wicket.
But Viljoen’s pressure from the Corlett Drive End translated into a wicket for Kagiso Rabada at the opposite Golf Course End, as a frustrated Compton pushed at a Rabada delivery outside his off stump. He succeeded only in getting an edge to Dean Elgar at second slip for 26.
Meanwhile, England’s was scoring at a healthy 4.2 runs per over.
Joe Root, the fourth best test batsman in the world according to ICC rankings, steadied the England ship with a studious 60 not out.
He was uncomfortable with the handsome Wanderers bounce but pounced on anything that got his front foot moving.
His partner James Taylor offered some comedy when he swung at a wide delivery and lost his grip on the handle and the bat flew to the mid-wicket region.
Temba Bavuma, fielding at short leg, watched Taylor’s bat fly, almost in ultra motion, through the air before handing the Englishman his equipment back.
That was the most entertainment Taylor provided as a Morne Morkel ripper, at the perfect length, caught his inside edge onto the thigh pad and to an alert Bavuma for seven runs.
That brought to the crease South Africa’s tormentor from the Newlands test, Ben Stokes, who got to 38 not out in a trice.
Stokes and Root took England past 150, putting on an undefeated 71-run partnership for the fifth wicket by the tea break.
There was late drama in the session as miscommunication between the England batters almost led to Stokes being run out at the keeper’s end but AB de Villiers’s shy at the stumps needed to be a direct hit. England survived.