20th over: South Africa 60-2 (Elgar 32, Nortje 0) It’s Dom Bess at the other end, so no Stuart Broad for now. He too opens with a maiden, but there are no alarms for the nightwatchman Nortje.
19th over: South Africa 60-2 (Elgar 32, Nortje 0) Wood does it again, third ball, and twice hurries Elgar into crabby deflections with a crooked bat. As first overs of the day go, that’s superb. But already the commentators are chuntering about a missing catcher, at second slip. Root did well on one side, with a short leg and a leg slip, but something in him keeps on wanting to overdo the caution. Maybe it’s the years he spent watching Alastair Cook setting the field.
It’s Mark Wood (hooray) and he opens with a jaffa – angled into the left-handed Elgar, and jagging past him. Not even Jerusalem can dampen the excitement.
“What times we live in,” says Bill Hargreaves. “Looking forward avidly to a day’s Test coverage. Thanks, in advance, for the great commentary, Tim.” Steady on. That could be like saying thanks, in advance, for the great captaincy, Joe.
I don’t believe it
Not only are England in charge, but the weather is better than forecast and the day seems to be starting on time. Something must be about to go horribly wrong, and Abhijato Sensarma is onto it. “The England Test side is easily one of the most volatile sporting outfits in the world. They oscillate from positions of comfort and advantage to ones of disarray and disadvantage, often within the same session. Yesterday was their best day in Test cricket for quite some time – the experienced players kept a cool head, while the young ones showed adequate style on their way to substance. The media is printing positive headlines for this team after a long time. If they do not follow it up with classical confusion, rusty bowling, and average fielding to surrender their advantage today, would the world even make sense anymore?”
Morning everyone. England’s cricketers have just woken up to face an unfamiliar challenge: how do you follow a perfect day? Yesterday they had one fresh-faced 22-year-old making a masterly hundred, and then another grabbing two top-order wickets. England finished the day 439 ahead, with Dom Bess lording it at one end and Mark Wood delivering thunderbolts at the other. The good news for South Africa is that their task is simple enough: all they have to do is dig themselves out of a deep hole.
One piece of evidence is on their side. So far in the third Test, not a single wicket has fallen before lunch. England should be able to change that curious fact with their tails up and a nightwatchman to bowl at – although, the last time he found himself doing this job, Anrich Nortje made a handy fortje.
Dean Elgar has been his usual craggy self with 32 not out, and the pitch is slow, verging on dead for the seamers once the ball goes soft. So there may yet be a twist, but, for the moment, England are right on top.
Joe Root even got away with impersonating the rather dopey captain he used to be – keeping Sam Curran on too long, bringing Wood on too late, and being so slow to surround the bat that you wondered if he’d misread the scoreboard and thought he had 299 to play with, not 499. As it is, South Africa need 300 to avoid the follow-on, and they’ve got one-fifth of the way there, at the cost of one-fifth of the wickets. So that element of the match is nicely poised.
The weather forecast, alas, is gloomy, with every hour of the day being given a 50-to-60-per-cent chance of rain. But still, the glass is almost half full. See you at 10am Port Elizabeth time, 8am GMT, for the next episode in an absorbing series.