South Africa vs England First Test Day Three report
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

England’s biggest opening partnership for three years saw them off to a good start as they faced down an almost impossible task chasing 376 at Supersport Park, evoking memories of that chase at Headingley mere months ago.

Burns and Sibley provide solid platform

Rory Burns (77*) and Dom Sibley (29) put on 92 together before Keshav Maharaj found the breakthrough. Sibley rather threw away his good start with a poor shot just as he was beginning to look at ease at the crease. He was caught and bowled Maharaj, prodding an almost as poor ball straight back to the spinner for an easy catch when it was begging to be sent to the ropes.

Reassuringly for England, the pitch showed few signs of demons as the day went on. South Africa would have been delighted that Maharaj was finding some turn bowling to Burns, and causing him some problems particularly in the last 40 minutes or so. Burns was also on the receiving end of a 90mph length ball from Kagiso Rabada that reared up and was gloved away from in front of his face. Luckily for the Surrey man, there were no fielders close by to take the catch.

Reason to believe

Burns was, asides from being dropped by Rassie van der Dussen on 20, quite chanceless as he racked up his quickest half century to date off of 64 balls. His trademark clip off the pads was on show as was his oddly textbook drive through extra cover.

After Sibley conspired to throw away his wicket Joe Denly (10*) came to the crease and much to the relief of Joe Root, who is the latest in the England camp to be struck by illness, comfortably saw off 39 deliveries to take England to stumps in a much stronger position than they might have anticipated. The way in which England’s top three negotiated these 41 overs, with the various beaten edges outnumbered by comfortable leaves and sumptuous boundaries, will give the middle order reason to believe they may just potentially be in a position to carry England over the line tomorrow.

England make life difficult for themselves yet again

The task should not have been as mountainous as it appeared at the start of the innings, however. A wayward first session meant England let South Africa get away from them again, after doing a good job of reigning the Proteas in on day two as the hosts’ second innings got off to a stuttering start. England took three wickets but conceded 125 runs in a chaotic morning that suited South Africa much more than them.

Jofra Archer picked up a first away five-for of his test career but was carted around as he did so- a reflection of how the innings panned out from an England perspective. The way in which he completed his haul- Maharaj beaten for pace and top-edging an ugly hook shoot all the way to Sam Curran at long leg- was his five-for in a nutshell. By this point, it was too little too late. Or so it seemed.

Game in the balance

That opening stand between Burns and Sibley will have given Faf du Plessis something to stew over until the morning, especially with Denly picking up where he left off in the first innings. That said, South Africa will still believe they hold all the cards- this is ,after, all an England side liable to collapse at any time, on a pitch that seems to still have some life in it for the bowlers, against a top-level pace attack supported by an excellent up and coming spinner.

But Root- if he has time to concentrate on anything other than recovering in time to bat tomorrow- will look to channel the modicum of hope that Burns has given England and use it to inspire another historic run chase. England have every reason to hope they can pull it off, and yet every reason to doubt they will.