Centuries by both England skipper Ben Stokes and Ben Foakes handed the hosts a commanding lead after they declared at 415 for 9, with the Proteas trailing by 241 runs at the close of play in the enthralling Test series.
When South Africa landed a sucker punch on England and batter Jonny Bairstow, in particular, they would have been hopeful of a change in fortunes after a calamitous batting effort on the first day of their second Test match against England.
Anrich Nortje provided the glimmer of hope for the wilting Proteas when he enticed a dangerous-looking Bairstow into an edge early in the morning session; Sarel Erwee taking the catch at first slip to deny Bairstow a deserved half-century by just a solitary run. Leaving the English on 134 for 4.
Nortje’s pace and precision would once again prove lethal for the hosts in the second game of the three-match Test series. Two overs after sending Bairstow back to the hut, the seamer was back to torment the English. This time vanquishing the remaining English overnight batter Zak Crawley (38).
That left England on 147 for 5, still four runs behind South Africa’s first innings total.
But that is where South Africa’s joy ended. After that, the two English Bens at the crease – namely Stokes and Foakes – bent the tie in England’s favour with contrasting but equally important Test tons each.
The two Bens bided their time before registering a big and timely partnership, worth an impressive 173 runs for the sixth wicket, with both reaching their respective centuries on the day.
For Stokes, it was his 12th Test hundred and the first since he ascended to the England captaincy. For Foakes, it was a second international Test century and the first on home soil.
Though the skipper steered from the front, his partner in tormenting South Africa’s bowlers was equally brilliant during the partnership as he played the perfect anchor role that allowed Stokes the freedom to attack the Proteas.
“They really absorbed the pressure well. Especially at the start [of their partnership]. Slowly but surely, they built the momentum and that partnership … They played the situation really well this time,” said Nortje on the partnership, in the aftermath of another tough day for the Proteas.
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South African captain Dean Elgar opted to try to trap the rampaging Stokes and Foakes in a web of spin, employing both of South Africa’s main spinners – Keshav Maharaj and Simon Harmer – after the lunch break.
However, the spin duo failed to orchestrate the breakthrough that the Proteas desperately yearned for – with both the lethal Kagiso Rabada and Nortje watching on.
It would be Rabada who snapped the dangerous partnership – removing captain Stokes for a significant 103 runs. Thereafter, the wickets tumbled in favour of the Proteas, with the two spinners ensuring that England’s tail did not wag detrimentally.
When Maharaj claimed the wicket of Jack Leach, to see the English sitting on 415 for 9, Stokes declared.
Nortje, who starred as South Africa raced into a 1-0 lead in the series, defended his captain’s use of spin.
“It’s a dry wicket compared to Lord’s. You have to go according to the conditions,” said Nortje when asked about the decision to head into the Test with two spinners, and also use them so rigorously when South Africa needed wickets that were not forthcoming.
“Dean had a plan according to what the situation told him … Whenever we came on as a group, it was according to what the thinking was, as well as the conditions. We were trying to utilise the spinners from one end or both ends,” Nortje said afterwards.
“All in all, it was a good wicket to bat on. So, we can’t go in too deep into who bowled when, at what time. It was just a good wicket to bat on at this stage.”
The tourists head into day three trailing by 241 runs, and with Mount Everest to climb in hopes of a comeback. But the 23-run stand between openers Elgar and Erwee in their second innings will provide some hope. DM