England and South Africa share a day of fluctuating fortunes at Emirates Old Trafford
England v South Africa, fourth Investec Test: Day One
An opening day of fluctuating fortunes in this 4th Investec Test Match at Emirates Old Trafford ended with England on 260-6 in their first innings and probably, if only marginally, the happier of the two teams.
Going in to tomorrow’s second day South Africa, needing to win to level the series may feel they have let some good opportunities slip today, although the late wicket of Ben Stokes will have lifted the mood in the visitors’ dressing room significantly.
They could only take one wicket during the morning when the ball nibbled around in helpful conditions and then having later reduced England to 92-3 and then 187-5 were unable to ram home their advantage.
England to their credit fought with great determination to compile three fifty partnerships on a day where there was always something in the wicket for the bowlers.
At the start of the morning South Africa were forced into two changes with both Vernon Philander and Chris Morris sidelined with back strains and replaced by Theunis De Bruyn and Duanne Olivier.
England, unchanged, won the toss and chose to bat, but both Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings endured an uncertain start against a South African attack that found both bounce and movement off the pitch.
Jennings opened the scoring when glancing Kagiso Rabada for four, only to be dropped off the next delivery when the bowler failed to hang on to a diving catch after the England opener, pushing forward, had lobbed the ball back up the wicket.
Jennings’ second four was a much more positive cut shot in Olivier’s first over, but the bowler struck back two overs later with the total on 35 when Jennings nicked a delivery outside off to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock for 17 to add to his recent run of low scores.
Tom Westley was relieved to see a Rabada delivery bounce over his stumps via a bottom edge when on 1 but played a sweetly timed drive off Morne Morkel for his first boundary in the 20th over.
Cook, who has come through more searching examinations during his career, continued to look more and more assured as the morning progressed, and his partnership with Westley prospered during the second hour of the session as the pair steered England to a healthy 67-1 by lunch.
If the South African attack had been guilty of some erratic bowling in favourable conditions prior to the break, they made up for that with a much better effort during the afternoon.
Initially England continued to build on their advantage as Cook and Westley added 25 runs to their alliance. Cook struck two boundaries off Olivier and Westley punched medium pacer de Bruyn through cover for 4 before having a moment of fortune when edging Olivier over the slips for 4.
So it was something of a surprise when Cook got a faint edge to de Kock off the spin of Keshav Maharaj after making 46.
Westley followed three balls later for 29 when de Kock pulled off a great diving catch to give Rabada his first wicket to leave England on 92-3.
Facing something of a mini crisis, Joe Root was quickly off the mark with a four through the covers off Maharaj and his innings turned out to be one full of incident.
The England skipper’s batting partner Dawid Malan produced a flashing cover drive off Rabada to record his first boundary and the pair rebuilt the innings with a vital partnership of 52 during the afternoon.
Malan became the fourth man out when he was caught for 18 at second slip by du Plessis after edging an attempted drive off Morkel.
Root, who survived a close lbw review when on 22, had played nicely to take the attack back to the visitors and he was aided either side of tea by a typically forthright innings from Stokes, the pair taking 13 from one Olivier over soon after the break.
Following an unfortunate ten minute delay when a spectator sat behind the arm in the Pavilion fell ill and required on the spot treatment, Root-on 40-was fortunate to escape when play resumed, edging the first delivery between a static de Kock and first slip off the bowling of a suitably anguished Morkel.
Unperturbed, Root carried on to reach the landmark of 5,000 Test runs and complete his half-century from 91 balls before walking across his stumps to be lbw for 52 to Olivier with the score 187-5.
Stokes and Johnny Bairstow then battled away through the evening sunshine to keep the visitors attack at bay, Bairstow flicking his first delivery away to the square leg boundary.
The pair looked have turned the day England’s way during the evening session with a valuable 6th wicket partnership, Stokes chanced his arm at times, edging his fifth delivery for 4 through the vacant 3rd slip area off the luckless Morkel, but looking quite capable of taking the game away from South Africa with a series of increasingly confident shots.
Stokes reached his half century, which included 8 fours, off 89 balls-easily the quickest scoring rate of the day while Bairstow provided the ideal support in making an unbeaten 33 by the close.
It looked like the England batsman/wicketkeeper would have Stokes for company tomorrow morning until Rabada produced a beautiful yorker with his final ball of the day to bowl the Durham man for 58.
With one over remaining Toby Roland-Jones was sent in as nightwatchman ahead of Moeen Ali as England ended on 260-6 and an absolutely crucial session now awaits on the second morning of this Test.
England v South Africa Tickets
Tickets are still on sale for the England v South Africa fourth Investec Test Match at Emirates Old Trafford – starting from £20 for adults and £5 for juniors.
However, tickets are extremely limited with the last few spaces available for Day Two (Saturday 5 August).
Hurry! Secure your tickets for the Investec Test as England look to lift the series trophy in Manchester.