The blueprint to pick wickets was laid out on the opening day itself, with two successes to boast for – a packed legside field in the inner ring waiting to pouch catches flicked off the middle and leg stump line. Faf du Plessis stuck to the same plan on Day 2 morning but Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada didn’t bowl with as much discipline; and the English batters – Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope – didn’t fall for it as easily. Instead, the batsmen, who had resumed the innings having already stitched a 76-run stand on Thursday, grew comfortable through the course of the first 45 minutes.
With the original plan not yielding results, du Plessis urged them to play the cut shot with a vacant backward point. Even that didn’t do them any good. And if anything, it leaked some runs. One of which helped Pope bring up his fifty. With Rabada, Nortje, and Philander failing to make inroads with the newish ball, it took almost an hour before Keshav Maharaj – South Africa’s most impressive bowler – was brought into the attack. He got the ball to turn sharply, but Stokes played him with as much ease.
The southpaw, who hogged the majority of the strike in the partnership on Friday, went on the attack soon after. In the 100th over of England’s innings, he swept and slog-swept the spinner for a boundary and a six. Soon, as Stokes kept marching on, South Africa’s captain ran out of plans, before the all-rounder eventually brought up his ninth Test century. It wasn’t the most fluent innings, but in conditions where run-making hasn’t been easy, it wasn’t surprising that it was his second slowest. En route to that landmark, he also became the seventh player to complete a Test double of 4000 runs and 100 wickets.
If at all South Africa came close to break the partnership, it was only a few overs before Lunch when Pope was adjudged leg-before off Dane Paterson, only to have the decision overturned with a review. He went to Lunch safely at 75, with the unbeaten 187-run stand for the fifth wicket-taking England to 335/4.
Brief Scores: England 335/4 (Ben Stokes 108*, Ollie Pope 75*; Kagiso Rabada 2-70) vs South Africa