Third Test, Day 2, Stumps
England: 499/9 declared (Stokes 120, Pope 135*, Maharaj 5/180)
South Africa: 60/2 (Elgar 32*, Malan 18, Bess 2/12)
How has it gone so horribly wrong, and more importantly so quickly, for Mark Boucher’s Proteas?
It was less than a month ago that a new dawn was predicted. Cricket SA had acted decisively with the appointment of former national heroes Graeme Smith (acting director of cricket) and Boucher (coach). For good measure, they brought their best mate Jacques Kallis (batting consultant) along to share his extensive knowledge.
Everything seemed to be working splendidly when the Proteas closed off 2019 with their first Test victory of the year. The fact that it came against English meant the taste was savoured even more.
Little did they know that their blissful honeymoon would only constitute Centurion. Since then South Africa have lost a New Year Test for the first time and endured two harrowing days here in Port Elizabeth.
“I don’t think anything has gone wrong," Boucher said. "I just think we could have been better in situations. We need to play the big moments better. We had our plans. I just think we did not execute them well.”
Today was particularly vexing though. It was actually difficult to grasp what was occurring in front of the eyes. Whereas previously all the batsmen had emphasized defence and survival over attack, England suddenly had two men whose entire beings ooze positivity.
Having come together at 148/4, Ben Stokes (120) and Ollie Pope (135*) were only separated once they had moved the total to an enormous 351/5. It was a glorious 58.5 overs with the English pair providing royal entertainment to the tune of 203 runs for the fifth wicket.
Stokes, as is his way, was the dominant partner. He was simply never going to allow Keshav Maharaj to settle into a rhythm where the left-arm spinner could deliver 30 overs on the trot like he did on the opening day. If Stokes felt like despatching Maharaj over mid-wicket for six, he duly went down on bended knee and did just that.
With Faf du Plessis losing his banker, he was forced to rotate his seamers. That task was problematical due to Vernon Philander only being utilised in short bursts due to surface negating his strengths. It remains a mystery why Philander and Dane Paterson are playing together in this Test.
England certainly did not complain about South Africa’s muddled thinking. And definitely not young Pope as he followed Stokes to his maiden Test century shortly after the World’s Best Player in 2019 raised his bat for his ninth Test ton of his career.
Prior to this South African tour Pope was considered a batsman for the future. The way he is adapting to Test cricket at just 22-years-old he is certainly going to be around for a very long time.
There was classy half-century at Newlands last time out, but now it was a sparkling 135 not out off 226 balls (18×4, 1×6). The way he toyed with Kagiso Rabada during the latter part of his innings when he lapped him either side of the wicket from almost a sitting stance showed a batsman that was not only filled with confidence, but was fearless too.
Pope’s audacious shot-selection would only have rubbed further salt into Rabada’s gaping wounds. The Proteas fast bowler will miss the final Test in Johannesburg next week after being handed one demerit point and fined 15% of his match fee for his overzealous celebration of England captain Joe Root’s wicket on Thursday evening.
“It is disappointing. I heard about it this morning (Friday). Having only come into the system I wasn’t aware of how the demerit system works. To hear that he is going to be banned is a massive blow for us. KG is a world class performer, especially at the Wanderers. It is very disappointing. But we have a Test match to save here first,” Boucher said.
To Maharaj’s credit he toiled manfully throughout and deserved his five wickets. His figures of 5/180 from a marathon 58 overs would have been even better were it not for a few late lusty blows from tailender Mark Wood.
To add further insult to injury, South Africa lost both Pieter Malan and Zubayr Hamza before the rain came pelting down to at least provide the home side with some relief before they start all over again on Saturday.