Ben Stokes was cast in a familiar role on day one of the third Test against South Africa, charged with bailing England out of a tricky situation alongside Ollie Pope in Port Elizabeth.
Stokes, the freshly minted world player of the year following his exploits in 2019, was left to carry the can when Joe Root lost his off stump to leave England 148 for four. However, he and Pope steered the tourists to 224 without further loss.
England had threatened to fritter an opening stand of 70 between Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, but what initially looked like a bowler’s graveyard at St George’s Park was slowly revealed as a trickier proposition as the Proteas gnawed away.
Stokes battled through some tough moments, and no less than three reviews, to finish 38 not out at stumps, with Pope timing his shots better than anyone in a lively unbeaten 39.
Sibley (36) and Crawley (44) had earlier become the first English openers to bat out the opening session of a Test since Sir Andrew Strauss and Sir Alastair Cook in 2011, setting up false expectations of a one-sided contest between bat and ball
Crawley creeping up
Zak Crawley has so far posted a new Test best score in each of his four innings for England. He started with a low base of one, then made four in his second knock. Things have slowly started to head in a more promising direction, with efforts of 25 and 44 suggesting a growing comfort with life at the highest level.
Faf’s flipping nightmare
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis must have forgotten what it feels like to choose between batting and bowling, having lost six consecutive tosses in a row. He still has some way to go before he matches compatriot Graeme Smith’s worst run of eight successive losses between 2008-09. Former England skipper Nasser Hussain still holds the unwanted record, though, with 10 in a row from 2000-01.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 16, 2020
Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior had a high-profile falling out after some incendiary comments in the former’s autobiography. The pair were both rostered on as part of talkSPORT’s commentary team for this match and rather than keep away from each other, they met in the middle ahead of play for a long chat and a handshake. Tweets from both proved that ill feelings have finally been left in the past.
Joe Denly has now faced at least 100 balls in nine of his past 13 innings. The ‘Dentury’ is fast becoming a virtual guarantee but the Kent man is still struggling to match the runs output required of a number three. Here he made 25, lowering his career average to 31.04.
Day two of five. England will be disappointed to fall far short of 400 and would dearly love to breach that psychological barrier. South Africa, meanwhile, know collapses can happen to this side and will look to hit them early and hard.