A combination of the rain and some stubborn resistance from Quinton de Kock and Anriche Nortje slowed down England’s march towards victory on the third day in Port Elizabeth.
Chances not taken
England had chances to dismiss de Kock throughout his unbeaten 63- three times he edged to Ben Stokes at slip off the spinners, and three times he was put down. Apparently Stokes is human after all.
The first of those was a difficult low chance off of Joe Root’s off spin, though he had done the hard part and got to the ball, only to see it burst through his hands. The second was much easier- an attempted cut off Root was sliced up into the slips and Stokes could only parry it up and behind him. The third was another attempted cut, this time off Joe Denly, which Stokes couldn’t quite keep hold of down low to his right.
Simply the Bess
Given the forecast England may rue those drops but they still remain in a near dominant position thanks, almost entirely, to Dom Bess. South Africa were reeling at 105 for 5 as the 22 year old ripped through the top order, claiming all of the hosts’ top five on his way a maiden five-fer.
He followed up his two wickets from the evening session yesterday with three wickets in the morning session, dislodging Dean Elgar early on and then Faf du Plessis soon after thanks to some stunning work from Ollie Pope at silly point and short leg respectively- the catch to dismiss Elgar particularly impressive as he flung himself forward to take a low catch. Rassie van der Dussen, who looked good for his 24 before chopping on as Bess found some turn from outside off, completed the set.
South Africa fight back
It was at this point though that England finally met some non rain related resistance, for the first time in about two and a half days of cricket. Nortje, in as nightwatchman, was proving again to be a difficult man to dislodge, despite narrowly surviving a Stuart Broad inswinger that he left to sail just past off stump. At the other end, de Kock became the first South African batsman to really take the game to England’s bowlers. His half century has so far been one of style and substance and yes, a little bit of fortune with those drops. But not many batsmen will handle Mark Wood’s raw pace as easily and dismissively as de Kock did at the beginning of his innings, clipping and cutting him for several boundaries to ease him in to his innings.
The partnership reached 45 before Stokes followed up Bess’s effort with a wicket in his second over of the match, a good length ball just finding enough movement off the pitch to take Nortje’s edge. By then, the tailender had taken up over three hours at the crease, facing 136 deliveries in the process. Stokes’s near instant impact, in the 62nd over, only legitimised the questions over how long it took Root to introduce him to the attack.
Rain now the 12th man for South Africa
Vernon Philander’s swansong series continued with a punchy innings of his own, scoring fluently early on before he and de Kock decided to bunker down and see the session through to stumps. It was Bess’s day though, his maiden five wicket haul putting England in a commanding position. England will need more magic from him tomorrow if they want to keep the game moving.
Root’s side will hope that the rain, which appeared around ten minutes before lunch and persisted until half past three, will not obstruct their progress tomorrow. For South Africa, any time taken out of the match will not be missed- they still need 92 to avoid the follow on, on a pitch that isn’t party to too many demons, and if England have to bat again the chances of a draw increase dramatically. The challenge for the tourists, who can’t lose from this position, is finding a way to take 20 wickets.