England's Pope has SA on the ropes

17 January 2020 - 18:43 By Alvin Reeves in Port Elizabeth
Ollie Pope of England celebrates after scoring 100 runs on day 2 of the third Test match against South Africa at St Georges Park on January 17.
Ollie Pope of England celebrates after scoring 100 runs on day 2 of the third Test match against South Africa at St Georges Park on January 17.
Image: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope rattled up centuries on Friday to ensure England are unlikely to be on the losing end of the third Test against South Africa at St George’s Park.

The second day, delayed by 45 minutes due to morning rain, drew to a gloomy close because of rain at 5.50pm but England’s prospects in this match were looking a lot brighter than South Africa’s.

When the umpires called time, England were firmly in control having posted 499 for nine in what could be a decisive Test in the series if the weather plays along over the remaining days.

In reply, the Proteas had reached a precarious 60 for two, still a massive 439 runs behind.

Pieter Malan was the first SA wicket to fall as he scooped a delivery straight back into the hands of spinner Dom Bess for 18. Zubayr Hamza (10) then popped a Bess delivery into the hands of Pope at short leg

Nightwatchman Anrich Nortjé (0) joined Dean Elgar (32) and the two managed to see it through to close without any further damage.

It was a dismal day for the home team that included the news of having their spearhead Kagiso Rabada banned for the final Test in Johannesburg next week.

While Keshav Maharaj took five wickets for the Proteas, the day was most definitely hijacked by the Stokes and Pope show.

And what an entertaining display it was.

The Stokes legend continued to gain momentum as he helped himself to 120, his ninth century in Test cricket.

There was nowhere to hide for a luckless South Africa bowling attack on a docile surface as he and Pope (135 not out) plundered them around St George’s with embarrassing ease.

After the South Africans went for a second consecutive morning without taking a wicket, Dane Paterson eventually got the breakthrough to remove Stokes after lunch.

It was Paterson’s first Test wicket and a prized one at that, but by the time it arrived, Stokes and Pope had combined for a crucial partnership of 203 runs.

Sam Curran joined Pope at the crease and he added 44 in no time at all before a late cameo from Mark Wood of 42 from only 23 balls (two fours and five sixes) saw England able to declare just one short of 500.

Maharaj toiled for 58 long overs and was rewarded with his sixth five-wicket haul in Tests.

But, that too came at a price as he conceded 180 runs, the most expensive five-wicket return for any bowler in the history of South African Test cricket.

Not the kind of record one would want to remembered for having achieved.

South Africa may dwell on what could have been after they had reduced England to 148 for four on the opening day.

Had Malan managed to get more of a hand on a sharp chance at short leg very early on in Stokes innings on day one, the script may have been completely different.

The margins are small in Test cricket and now and then you need some luck.

South Africa will be hoping good fortune smiles on them on Saturday as they chip away at England’s massive total.

They will need to bat for the better part of days three and four if they are to have any hope of saving this Test.