The first session was one of the most bonkers and barnstorming sequences of Test Match play you’ll ever see – a superb advert for the finest format of the game. The swings in fortune, the drama and daredevilry were quite dazzling, none more so than Jimmy’s astonishing figures of 4 for 4 in 3.2, quite simply Nobody Does It Better.
After Philander failed to add to his overnight 54 with a soft spoon to Dawson, Maharaj was at least one too high up the batting order as Root dove for a super catch to send the confidence pumping through his already gung-ho veins. Chris Morris faffed around rather as his scratchy strike rate of 43 belied that of one of the world’s great stroke-makers, and Morkel after driving Broad twice for four was out flashing.
The Proteas won’t have been too perturbed though as the low cloud-cover made for the most perfect bowling conditions. This came to be as England had a horror start when Cook had a thin inside edge from Philander onto his pad that went through to de Kock, and although given not out, Faff instantly reviewed and his surety was upheld. The very next ball and Morkel was far too good for Jennings who was opened up and QDK again gobbled happily.
England were in big trouble at 3-2 but enter the skipper who proceeded to explode the game into life with a glorious hour of play. A dozen boundaries flew, and just eight singles were scored as England roared to 85/2 by the interval, with Root reacting to the challenge with astonishing power and elan. He reached his 50 off just 40 balls, which compares well to Botham’s first 50 at Old Trafford off 60 balls, an innings remembered as one of the most ferocious of the last Century. But even he took time to gird his loins, but not JER. Gary Ballance provided a fine foil with 26 off 34, but could he crack on for a major score to bring back memories of 2014 which seem so long ago?
The drama continued a pace as Ballance was bowled by Philander, countered by a partnership of 57 between Root and Bairstow. Just as it appeared that England had wrested the initiative away, Root snicked a good ball from Morkel on 78, giving just reward for consistent bowling.
In comparison to the morning session this was Hello Goodbye in depth and interest compared to the morning’s operatic A Day in the Life, but 99 runs were still scored, despite one of the most soporific – and worst – ducks one will ever see by Ben Stokes who was starved of the strike and faced just 12 deliveries in his 7.2 overs of sufferance. His misery was ended by an inside edge onto pad which was snapped up by a fumbling QDK who was fortunate that the ball didn’t graze his visor, much to the 3rd umpire’s interest.
One of the balls of the series by Maharaj then accounted for Young JB (45) who was totally becalmed when a beauty pitched on middle and clipped off – shades of Vaughan versus Tendulkar in 2002 if you will. Moeen came in an slogged his first ball for a riotous four to cow corner, and at the end of the session, with Dawson avoiding four consecutive Test ducks, the honours lay with SA with England 184-6 and trailing by 151.
England’s ramparts having been breached before tea, Morris barrelled through post with an incisive and intelligent spell of fast bowling that turned the game decisively South Africa’s way. Having rocked Ali back in his crease with well-directed leg theory, the elegant Worcestershire left hander fell for the sucker punch, caressing a full ball to point. Regularly topping 85mph, Morris made short work of the tail, ably supported by Maharaj. Morris’ efforts only highlighted England’s vanilla attack, all right-arm fast-medium and prone to stray. Whilst Kuhne and his hard hands didn’t last long, well snaffled at Root’s bootstraps off Anderson, Elgar and an increasingly authoratative Amla consolidated the Saffers position, taking advantage of some poorly directed bowling from Wood, Broad and Ali. At close, South Africa were well place to finish the game in three days. Root’s face, etched with concern, was in marked contrast to that of his predecessor who was seen laughing and smiling at first slip in the last few overs. Cook, a man reborn? Root, aged ten years in a day?