England continued their march towards victory in Port Elizabeth thanks to a blistering 25minute spell in the morning and then career best figures from Joe Root in South Africa’s second innings.
The captain bowled for nearly the whole afternoon uninterrupted as England mitigated the impact of a lengthy rain delay with steady progress on day four of the third test. His figures of 4-31 helped pick apart the South African middle order on a slightly sluggish pitch, thanks in no small part to some exceptional work at short leg from Ollie Pope.
England blow away the tail to enforce the follow on
The day began with a diet version of one of those legendary Stuart Broad spells as the seamer took three quick wickets to decimate the hosts’ lower order. In the first over of the day he found a way through Vernon Philander, who looked so comfortable seeing things through until stumps yesterday- off stump sent flying. Sam Curran then followed that up in the next over with one that found its way through a loose Quinton de Kock shot- middle stump sent flying.
Back to Broad, who took just three balls to send Keshav Maharaj back to the pavilion. It was a regulation top of off stump ball that Maharaj, in attempted to pull it through midwicket, contrived only to chop on- leg stump sent flying.
Two overs later and Broad wrapped up the innings as Kagiso Rabada drove uppishly to Mark Wood at mid off, and Root was left with the easy decision to make South Africa follow on. 25 minutes, 28 balls, four wickets and just one run. If South Africa didn’t already find themselves in a difficult enough situation, it was now looking like only a miracle- and plenty more rain- might save them.
Wood starts the party before Root gets hosts in a spin
England’s speedy progress had, by and large, taken the sting out of the lengthy rain delay that followed the hosts’ early morning collapse. When play did resume in the second innings it was Wood’s turn to rattle the South Africans, and in particular Dean Elgar’s off stump in the ninth over. Wood was at his best in his first spell- fast, hostile and full of boundless energy. After Elgar fell it was Zubayr Humza next in the pacer’s sights, and the batsman was visibly uncomfortable against Wood’s pace. So uncomfortable that it was a slightly leg side 90mph delivery that saw him glove behind, rather than any of the rib ticklers that Wood flung down.
After Wood’s early breakthroughs England turned to spin, with Dom Bess tying up one end and Root causing problems at the other- in a complete contrast to what their roles in the side would usually demand.
Rassie van der Dussen in particular never got to grips with Root, who used natural variation from round the wicket to great effect. He came to the crease after Root had got one to straighten and rap the otherwise impressive Peter Malan on the pads, and van der Dussen’s uncomfortable stay at the crease was a tale of playing around his pads to deliveries going down leg. It was not a sustainable technique and eventually Root induced an inside edge that ballooned to Pope’s left at short leg- a stunning flying catch adding to the 22 year old’s most impressive test appearance to date.
De Kock then re-entered the fray and promptly played a second poor shot of the day, slashing at one pitching in the rough outside off stump- though an impressive, hanging in the air catch from Wood was required to complete Root’s third dismissal. Faf du Plessis, a somewhat lonely figure of resistance so far, was finally dislodged- an inside edge onto his pads looping gently to Pope for a simpler catch this time. Root now had four, despite a bizarre review from du Plessis, and there was more than a sense of the captain gunning for a maiden five wicket haul as he bowled himself unchanged to the end.
Philander rides his luck to resume in the morning
At the other end Bess, who had been tidy but not nearly as threatening as Root, was replaced by Wood who even though he was slightly down on pace from his first spell, still troubled Vernon Philander with the short ball. First he was nearly caught by a flying Dom Sibley at square leg- it would have been an incredible catch, and the opener can’t be blamed for not holding it- before Ben Stokes also missed a difficult chance as a hook shot thumped him in the chest. Philander though lives on, with Maharaj keeping him company at the other end, but it feels very much a case of when and not if England wrap this up tomorrow. Only the rain seems likely to deny them a series lead with just four South African wickets left to take.