England vs South Africa, third Test: Alastair Cook at his defiant best to keep hosts

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England vs South Africa, third Test: Alastair Cook at his defiant best to keep hosts’ hopes alive

A lastair Cook owed England first-innings runs. After making his hundred against Pakistan at Old Trafford last year, he had dried up like an actor forgetting his longer speeches, just chipping in with one-liners. But with the series against South Africa poised at one-all, Cook delivered an unbeaten 82 which has kept England in the game.

Test cricket is not cool – most of the time – because the most valuable player is often the opening batsman who turns the tide of a series painstakingly. Cook has piloted England to 171 for four in conditions where the ball has darted all over the shop, and his stubbornness had to be back at its monumental best as he left the ball, or edged it, or was beaten altogether. But on such unglamorous innings – and at times he was even uglier than Dean Elgar – Test victories are based.

Day one in itself made a strong case against four-day Test matches. This may well end in four days, as the first two Tests of this series did – while a Test against West Indies later this summer could easily end in three, especially the inaugural day/nighter at Edgbaston. But because this game was scheduled to last five days, England’s batsmen had to put their heads down, grinding and grafting, instead of throwing the bat as if they had attention deficit disorders; thus their techniques were tested, and their personalities revealed, most notably Cook’s extreme devotion to duty.

I t was much the same as Trent Bridge when South Africa had decided to bat first, a little reluctantly, as the pitch was damp and the ball both swinging and seaming, but it had to be done because the footmarks when dried out would make batting even harder. Cook was England’s Hashim Amla, personifying patience. If he can but reach a century on the second morning – it would be his 31st in Tests – he will be cheered to the echo, not least as the relic of another age when batsmen grew up trying not to get out, rather than trying to get the ball out of the ground.

O f Cook’s five companions, the first had the unhappiest day: Keaton Jennings, caught on the crease again. He has had one bad Test, as he made a hundred in his first, a 50 in his second, also in India, and a valuable 33 at Lord’s after an erroneous decision in his first innings. He may be halfway through his second bad Test, but for the moment he has had just the one at Trent Bridge – yet the bandwagon, or tumbril demanding his head, gathers pace.

Jennings faced nine balls from Philander without scoring a run. After an early lunch, Root was to face six balls from Philander without scoring a run before he too nicked off. The difference was that Jennings showed little intent, when a single to get to the other end should have been the top priority; and the decision about his immediate future has to be based on what is going on inside his head.

N o welcome could have been more reassuring for Tom Westley, not even a band of the Coldstream Guards, than that of Cook, his Essex mentor, the man to bring down the pulse-rate of any debutant. Westley is one of three for England in this game. Not since Princess Margaret was young has London, at the height of the season, seen so many debs, for it was in the Lord’s Test in the first half of June 2014 that England had last fielded so many.

W estley’s personality stood up well under examination. He was not afraid to play to his legside strengths. After he had got off the mark with a couple of fours behind square-leg his confidence, even boldness, was evident when he reached out to Keshav Maharaj and drove him through mid-off. If it was bottom-handed, like all his strokes, it demonstrated positive intent as Jennings had not.

Westley’s righthandedness may have been a contributory factor in South Africa pitching too short for the rest of the morning, once Philander had finished his opening four-over spell. After lunch however one of the first balls to land on Westley’s offstump drew him into a drive – and not an offdrive but an ondrive across the line of an outswinger. On the evidence of this innings, if Westley is to have a lengthy Test career, such as only a small minority of debutants achieve, it is more likely to be down the order – among the swelling band of number sixes England can call on – than number three.

Root tried to counterattack while Cook clung on at the other end, but such was the quality of South Africa’s attack that England’s captain had to throttle down to defence. He nicked off in Philander’s second spell, while the second debutant Dawid Malan was cleaned up by Kagiso Rabada’s yorker. Rain then struck off the last 31 overs, leaving the game in the state that has prevailed in England v South Africa series for more than 60 years: almost perfect equilibrium.

Play Abandoned

A fraid we’ve seen the last of the action today at the Oval, with England content no doubt to avoid losing any further wickets and relying heavily on that stand from Cook throughout the various patches of poor weather.

The former England captain finishes on 82 off 178, with Ben Stokes similarly digging in.

Had Vernon Philander not spent large parts of the day off the field with a stomach bug then South Africa would have inflicted more damage on an undoubted day for the bowlers’, given the cloud cover that’s hung over the Oval since lunchtime.

Special mention has to go to this beauty of a yorker from Rabada on his return from suspension.

WICKET Brilliant catch from de Kock as Root is caught behind for 29

H ere’s to better weather tomorrow, with both sides chasing down the lead in the series in the Oval’s 100th Test.

Umpires and groundsmen having a chat

P ositive signs out on the field, although the covers remain firmly on. Looks like the worst of the weather has cleared for now though.

Cook riding the storm

19:00 is the cut-off time for further play today, so fingers crossed. Cook’s knock of 82 looks even more impressive given conditions.

The rain returns

B ad news. The players are off as the rain returns. Updates as we get them but this could be an issue late in the day.

OVER 59: ENG 171/4 (Cook 82* Stokes 21*)

S tokes takes a single before another neat clip off the pads from Cook brings up the 50 partnership.

It’s raining again, by the way.

And with that, I hand you back over to Ben Coles who will take you through to the close of play.

OVER 58: ENG 168/4 (Cook 80* Stokes 20*)

P hilander has Stokes on the ropes here. He beats him with another beauty that goes right through the batsman’s defence, and all Stokes can do is smile and shake his head in disbelief. One ball after another beats Stokes, who manages an unconvincing inside-edge-of-a-single from the final ball.

OVER 57: ENG 167/4 (Cook 80* Stokes 19*)

T here are few better at pushing a ball short of a length and straying down leg off their hip than Cook, and he does just that to take his first runs since the break in play – four of them, no less.

Then a slower ball from Morkel is overpitched and outside off. Cook punishes him with another boundary. He edges closer to a much-needed century. Needed, that is, for both player and team.

OVER 56: ENG 158/4 (Cook 72* Stokes 18*)

A wide from Philander! The less said about that the better.

He quickly finds his line again, and a ball that nips away from Stokes tempts the batsman into a swing, and he edges up and over the slip cordon for four.

OVER 55: ENG 152/4 (Cook 72* Stokes 13*)

M orkel again. Around the wicket again. Cook, standing strong and digging deep, will rarely be beaten in a game of patience. Morkel tries, tries and tries again to draw Cook into playing at a ball outside off, but can only beat him with a straighter ball that jags away late on and just misses the edge. An intriguing battle, this.

OVER 54: ENG 152/4 (Cook 72* Stokes 13*)

N o surprise to see Philander at the other end. He restarts with figures of two for eight.

He almost has Stokes second ball, after he inside-edges a forward defensive past the stumps and down to third man.

And then Philander finds an all too large gap between Stokes’ bat and pad, but the ball just skids up over the stumps. Good over.

OVER 53: ENG 150/4 (Cook 72* Stokes 11*)

H ere we go then: Morne Morkel restarts proceedings, coming around the wicket at the left handers.

Cloud cover, a bit of moisture in the air, and encouraging movement for Morkel. A short-ish ball keeps low and Stokes bottom edges an attempted hook, before turning one down to fine leg for a single to bring up England’s 150.

Here come the players

T he South Africans are trying to play keepy-uppy with a cricket ball and surprisingly enough aren’t very good at it. Play will resume shortly.


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