England vs South Africa, Fourth Test - Day One: Final match tentatively poised after opening exchanges

The hosts grafted in challenging batting conditions whilst the visitors picked up wickets at regular intervals.

England vs South Africa, Fourth Test - Day One: Final match tentatively poised after opening exchanges
Batting and bowling was a hard slog for both teams under variable weather conditions (photo: Getty Images/Gareth Cropley)

England finished day one of the fourth Test on 260-6 as they looked to ensure a series victory over visiting South Africa in Manchester.

Tight opening in overcast conditions as Jennings fails again

With England 2-1 up going into the final match of the series, Joe Root opted to stick with the same side that destroyed South Africa in the third Test.

Despite winning the toss and opting to bat, the hosts struggled to score in blustery conditions against a visiting eleven that was missing the injured pace duo of Vernon Philander and Chris Morris. England's difficulties were optimised by Alistair Cook taking twelve balls to get off the mark.

Cook's opening partner, Keaton Jennings, has been under pressure after failing to make 50 in six previous innings and he was unable to build any foundations again after another brief spell at the crease. Pushing forward at Duane Olivier after reaching 17, Jennings edged behind for the fifth time in seven innings with his confidence still in tatters.

South African captain Faf du Plessis would have been concerned when Keshav Maharaj was forced off for treatment early in his spell but England continued to be pegged back as they ended the morning session on 67-1 at a run rate of just 2.31.

De Kock captures milestone as England crumble after lunch

Cook was looking solid after the break and runs were beginning to flow in an easier fashion as he picked off Olivier at the start of the afternoon session. However, it was the return of Maharaj's spin that eventually did for the former England captain. A turning delivery caught the outside edge of Cook as he nicked behind to Quinton de Kock for 46 runs off 103 balls after two and a half testing hours at the crease.

His Essex teammate Tom Westley had also been grafting away at the wicket but only lasted another ten minutes alongside Joe Root. De Kock picked up his third catch off as many different bowlers as he leapt to his right to capture the England number three after edging a pacey delivery from Kagiso Rabada. Westley will be disappointed not go on from a start of 29 runs from 88 balls as wicketkeeper de Kock picked up his 100th dismissal in just his 23rd Test match.

Captain Root began to settle into a rhythm as he returned to Old Trafford for the first time for England since making 254 against Pakistan last summer. Yet he survived an LBW review on 22 as Rabada hit him on the pads but was given not out. The referral showed the ball was clipping the stumps, thus sticking with the umpire's on-field decision.

Root and Dawid Malan nudged their way to a 50 partnership before Morne Morkel finally won a tactical battle with the latter just before tea. Malan had looked confident defending against the seamer when he went round the wicket but a change in approach allowed Morkel to catch the edge of the left-hander as he was gobbled up by du Plessis for 18. The wicket left England 147-4 at the interval with the contest finely poised.

Root and Stokes score half-centuries to give hosts a foothold

England's response was to go on the counter-attack as Ben Stokes joined Root and looked to play a trademark aggressive innings. Meanwhile, the skipper became the fifth fastest Englishman to reach 5,000 Test runs moments before he racked up a half-century for the tenth successive match.

Yet Root's momentum was short-lived as he made just two more runs and lasted another nine balls before being trapped LBW by Olivier before the batsman's review was quashed.

Jonny Bairstow came to the crease as a more than capable number seven but had a reprieve early on in his innings. He was given out after inside edging onto his pad before the ball floated to Dean Elgar. Yet the review showed that the ball fell just short of the slip fielder as Bairstow remained at the wicket. 

Stokes survived a barrage of short deliveries aimed at the body by Morkel to make 50 as the day's play drew to a close. Yet with only seven balls remaining, the England all-rounder was beaten for pace by Rabada as he delivered a devilish yorker to clatter Stoke's stumps and send him packing for 58 from 96 balls. 

Toby Roland-Jones was sent in as a nightwatchman and survived the final over to walk back to the pavilion with Bairstow on an unbeaten 33 as England finished the first day on 260-6. The late wicket of Stokes leaves the contest firmly in the balance.


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