Late Ben Stokes runs gives England encouragement on first day vs South Africa
England will be looking for their own Big Ben to keep striking after repeating all too familiar mistakes on an attritional first day in Port Elizabeth.
Ben Stokes remains 38 not out while the in-form Ollie Pope is unbeaten on 39 as the flame haired duo batted with such controlled aggression the ability of the top order to frustratingly once again get in and then get out could soon be forgotten.
Coming together at 148-4 following two quick wickets, early control of this pivotal third game was up for grabs with South African tails up.
By the time they were done at the close, the scoreboard had a much more encouraging look to it on 224-4 and with the second new ball causing the minimum of fuss.
All it took was the newly-crowned best player in the world and the most promising batsman of his generation to stop the rot and play the game their way.
Stokes remained as patient as those that came before him, but Pope picked up from where he left off in Cape Town and batted as if on a totally different surface to everyone else.
He peeled off three successive fours from Anrich Nortje’s first over with the second new ball, the last of which was an exquisite square drive that made it obvious where the Ian Bell comparisons come from.
Both men have the chance to go big on day two and give England that first innings score above 400 that they crave, because the 20s, 30s and 40s that have been delivered so far won’t cut it.
From Dom Sibley to Zak Crawley and onwards through Joe Denly and Joe Root, all four of their top order batsmen got themselves in and got a start.
Denly’s 25 was the lowest score of the four, coming from 100 patient and watchful balls that made the South African bowlers work hard in the searing heat.
But just when one or more of these batsmen might have made their dogged work really pay off they got out thanks to a combination of South African tactics and batsmen error.
Both Sibley and Crawley were found guilty of falling into the trap set for them with a leg side heavy field and the bowlers targeting their hips and their pads, usually a strong run scoring area.
Sibley clipped Kagiso Rabada to the waiting Dean Elgar at a leg gully before Crawley flicked a leg stump half volley to Rassie van der Dussen at square leg for his highest Test score of 44.
Crawley is learning on the job and by batting for more than three hours and helping England reach lunch without losing a wicket he again showed he has potential.
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