Cook in the swing as South Africa's bowlers find pitch to their liking

Hendo

Close of play score (third Test); Eng 171-4 v South Africa (Cook 82*, Stokes 21*)

There was rain, cloud, a greenish pitch, a moving ball and regular interruptions. In other words, the perfect conditions for Alastair Cook. The former England captain provided the kind of stern resistance that seems to be going out of fashion as South Africa's bowlers made the ball talk in any number of languages on the first day of the third Test at the Oval.

Cook was an example in focus and concentration as he provided firm foundations at one end while batsman old and new – Tom Westley and Dawid Malan made their debuts – came and went at the other.

By the close, after a final interruption that turned terminal, he had reached 82, a 55th Test half-century that he might well cash in for a 31st century in the morning. He had faced 178 balls and hit ten fours, judging deliveries moving extravagantly through the air and off the pitch with the kind of expertise befitting a man who is playing his 142nd five-day match.

Those without that level of experience found it more difficult, although Westley, Cook's Essex team-mate, found himself at the crease perhaps earlier than he would have wanted when Vernon Philander induced an edge from Keaton Jennings in the fourth over.

And Malan, who joined Cook after the loss of Joe Root, had to endure a difficult period that included 25 minutes off for rain before he had scored his first Test run, and then received a demon of an inswinging yorker from Kagiso Rabada that ended his contribution for the day.

Root, the England captain, had called correctly at the toss and it is doubtful that his opposite number Faf du Plessis was too disappointed when he decided to take first use of a well-grassed surface.

It didn't take long to have seasoned observers wondering whether Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad might have preferred to have the new ball in their hands rather than their feet up in the dressing room.

Philander was his usual unerringly accurate self and he had teased the out-of-form Jennings outside his off stump before the Transvaal-born 25-year-old was unable to resist playing at one too many and touched low to Dean Elgar at third slip.

As Westley emerged into the glooom on the staging of the Oval's 100th Test, he would at least have been comforted by the sight of the familiar Cook at the opposite end. The pair have batted together 32 times in first-class cricket, averaging 56 and compiling six scores of a hundred or more.

He settled with a couple of trademark clips off his legs for four – he may have overplayed the flourish at the end of each stroke for effect – and picked up three further boundaries as he went to lunch on a solid 24 and England at 62 for one after a session truncated by 20 minutes by the weather.

However, he had added only a single to his interval score when he drove rashly at an excellent away-swinger from Chris Morris and his thick edge was gleefully snaffled at second slip by Du Plessis.

Another of those keen to play his strokes, he seemed to go too hard at the ball and failed to get his front foot close enoug to the ball.That he seemed to be aiming the ball through straight mid-on probably didn't help his cause either.

Root showed the benefit of experience when, having got off the mark with two cuts for four, he receieved a similar ball, which also found his outside edge, but his soft hands helped it to go to ground and through Du Plessis for four.

The England captain, though, having raced into his twenties at a run a ball, found himself tied down by an excellent Morkel spell – the lanky paceman was unlucky to end the day wicketless – in which late movement almost found his edge twice. Then Philander, whose figures in the first session had read 4-3-2-1, came back to end his stay in the middle.

It was a salutary reminder that the over-aggressive approach that cost England in their first innings at Trent Bridge, might not always be the best one, especially as the overcast conditions, enhanced by the floodlights, were encouraging the ball to deviate for a much longer period than the batsmen were entitled to expect.

Perhaps fortunately for the home side, thought, Cook appeared to be in it for the long haul, adding only 15 runs in the first hour or so after lunch, although that took him to within a single of a 55th Test fifty before rain came to cause the second interruption of the day and a delay of 25 minutes.

Malan didn't get off the mark until the resumption, off his 15th ball, and he lasted only two more deliveries as a delicious delivery from Rabada knocked him off his feet and stumps out of the ground.

Philander continued to test Cook and it took him another 15 minutes to go to his half-century, from 128 balls, but it was a stroke worth waiting for, a beautiful wristy cut just backward of gully.

Had Ben Stokes not got in a full-length dive as he raced to the non-striker's end as Cook inexplicably called for a third shortly before tea, things would have been even worse for the hosts.

The rain that arrived at the interval prevented play from starting for another hour and a half and when action finally resumed, the ball began to misbehave even more erratically. Even the precise Philander, who finished the day with two for 17 from 12 overs, failed to control one, which pitched short, swung wide after bouncing and allowed Stokes to free his arm and clear the slips.

Cook, though, battled on, seemingly unpeteurbed by balls that jagged away and beat him, while Stokes merely found it amusing when another Philander beauty drew him forward to a ball on the line of leg stump and beat him outside off.

Toby Roland-Jones, England's third new cap, might be looking forward to his first chance with the ball.

The light began to fade rapidly and before long, the final rain of the day arrived. That must have been a relief to the two batsman and, weather permitting, Cook will be looking to bed down for an even longer stay tomorrow.

Teatime score: Eng 149-4 (Cook 72*, Stokes 10*) v South Africa (third Test)

England's batsmen found themselves in trouble again, captain Joe Root and debutants Tom Westley and Dawid Malan all being removed by impressive South African bowling as the ball continued to move, at times dramatically, well into the second session of the third Test at the Oval.

The swing of Chris Morris accounted for Westley in the first over after lunch, before Root, having given the England innings renewed impetus, found himself initially tied down by Morne Morkel and then dismissed when Vernon Philander was belatedly reintroduced to the attack.

Then, after a break for rain, both the stumps and Malan himself were uprooted by an unplayable yorker from Kagiso Rabada. Malan had managed only a single in a taxing start to life in England colours.

Philander, who had been suffering with stomach problems which required occasional absences from the field, had already bowled a superb spell of 4-3-2-1 in the first session but, in only his second over of the afternoon, he squared Root up with a beautiful away swinger and found his outside edge.

Westley had added a single to his score of 24 at the interval when he rather rashly drove at a ball that moved away from the right-hander, caught a thick edge and was gratefully snaffled at second slip by Faf du Plessis.

He seemed to go too hard at the ball, which wasn't quite a half-volley, and failed to move his feet. The fact that he seemed to be aiming the ball through straight mid-on probably didn't help his cause.

Root showed the benefit of his experience when, having got off the mark with two cuts for four, he receieved a similar ball, which also found his outside edge, but his soft hands helped it to go to ground and through Du Plessis for four.

Like in his first knock at Trent Bridge, Root was operating at pretty much a run a ball as he raced into his twenties, but Morkel reminded him – as well as the rest of a brittle England batting line-up – of the dangers of an over-aggressive approach with late movement that nearly found the England captain's outside edge on a couple of occasions.

Morris and Morkel were both finding more movement than the England batsmen would have expected as the day reached its halfway stage and Philander immediately joined the party when his captain turned to him again, Quinton de Kock taking a marvellous one-handed catch to his right behind the stumps.

In the first session, the 32-year-old, who is averaging a wicket every 22 runs in Test cricket, had removed Keaton Jennings for another duck. The Transvaal-born left-hander has scored only 44 from five innings in this series.

Westley, one of three players winning their first cap – Toby Roland-Jones and Malan, the latter aimed at giving more depth to the batting unit in place of Liam Dawson, were the others – found himself at the crease in the fourth over.

He would at least have been comforted by the sight of his county colleague, Alastair Cook, at the opposite end as he walked out into the gloom on the staging of the Oval's 100th Test, the pair having batted together 32 times for Essex, averaging 56 and with six partnerships of 100 or more.

He settled with a couple of clips off his legs for four and picked up three further boundaries as he went to lunch on a solid 24.

Perhaps fortunately for England, Cook appeared to be in it for the long haul, adding only 15 runs in the first hour or so after lunch, although that took him to within a single of a 55th Test fifty before rain came to cause the second interruption of the day and a delay of 25 minutes.

Malan had only recently joined him when the weather intervened, and didn't get off the mark until the resumption, off his 15th ball.

Philander continued to test Cook and it took him another 15 minutes to go to his half-century, from 128 balls, but it was a stroke worth waiting for, a beautiful wristy cut just backward of gully.

But Malan was dismissed by a perfect inswinging yorker from Rabada that left him – and his stumps – lying flat on the ground. Had Ben Stokes not got in a full-length dive as he raced to the non-striker's end as Cook inexplicably called for a third shortly before tea, things would have been even worse for the hosts.

From a South African point of view, it was looking a very good toss to have lost.

Lunchtime score Eng 62-1 v South Africa (third Test)

Tom Westley got an early taste of Test action after he was named as one of three debutants for England in the third Test at the Oval.

After captain Joe Root had called correctly and opted to take first use of a greenish Oval pitch, Westley, the Essex batsman, found himself at the crease in the fourth over, Keaton Jennings failing again, victim of the unnerringly accurate Vernon Philander.

Westley would at least have been comforted by the sight of his county colleague, Alastair Cook, at the opposite end as he walked out into the gloom on the staging of the Oval's 100th Test, the pair having batted together 32 times for Essex, averaging 56 and with six partnerships of 100 or more.

He settled with a couple of clips off his legs for four and was given a chance to have a good look at the pace of the pitch as Morne Morkel, in particular, bowled too short and wide to him. And when South Africa captain Faf du Plessis decided to have a look at his spinner in the first hour, he drove him for two more, once slightly aerially between short extra and mid off and then through mid-on.

When rain brought a premature end to the session about 15 minutes before lunch, he had made 24, 20 of them from boundaries.

Cook, due a big score after a highest of 69 in the first two Tests, had played typically watchfully for an unbeaten 34, the highlights of his innings an emphatic cover drive off Morkel and a wonderfully-timed clip off the legs behind square leg.

Westley had been handed his first Test cap earlier, along with Toby Roland-Jones, the Middlesex pace bowler, and Dawid Malan, his county colleague, as Liam Dawson, the slow left-armer, was left out in a move aimed at creating a more adhesive batting than that which capitulated in the second innings at Trent Bridge.

Philander, who picked up the man-of-the-match award in that match for batting exploits as well as those with the ball, was as crafty and miserly as usual, probing outside Jennings' off stump until he was lured into edging one low to third slip, where Dean Elgar dived to his right and foward to take the catch. By the time he was rested his figures had the look of a countdown: 4-3-2-1.

It was a second duck in three innings for Jennings, the 25-year-old originally from Transvaal, who has now made just 44 runs in five knocks in this series.