Ollie Pope’s maiden Test century and another from the bat of the irrepressible Ben Stokes put England firmly in charge of South Africa on a dominant second day in Port Elizabeth.
The tourists declared on 499 for nine and closed having reduced the Proteas to 60 for two, a commanding position built around two brilliant knocks from men at different stages of their journey.
Pope announced himself as a worthy recipient of the ‘next big thing’ tag he has been handed with a wonderful, unbeaten 135 in just his ninth Test innings, while Stokes’ 120 continued a remarkable sequence of performances that saw him crowned this week as world player of the year.
The pair shared a stand of 203 for the fifth wicket, coming together on the previous evening at 148 for four and shaping the game together. Weighed down by the exertions of 152 overs in the field, South Africa lost Pieter Malan and Zubayr Hamza to Dom Bess’ off-spin in just over an hour’s play before stumps.
Before reaching his century Stokes ticked his 4,000th Test run to become just the seventh man to achieve that mark having also taken at least 100 wickets. Sir Ian Botham, predictably, is the solitary Englishman among the other six, joined by Jacques Kallis, Sir Garfield Sobers, Carl Hooper, Kapil Dev and Daniel Vettori.
Stokes and Pope’s stand was the 100th stand of 200 or more for England. Among the previous 20 exactly half featured Sir Alastair Cook.
There was confusion when Mark Wood was dismissed off a no-ball towards the end of the England innings, with everyone heading for the pavilion in an apparent sign that Joe Root had signalled the declaration. When it transpired Kagiso Rabada had over-stepped and Wood was not out, the innings carried on. The laws around a declaration state “once notified, the decision cannot be changed” but it was not clear if Root had officially made the signal.
The England number 10 smashed 42 in just 23 balls and was eventually out caught just a few yards in from the boundary. Had the ball gone just a little further the Durham man would have been a shoo-in for the country’s fastest Test 50, currently held by Botham in 28 balls. Not bad for a man with an average of 16.50 when he walked to the crease.
Day three of five: Some bad weather is forecast over the weekend and South Africa will be more than happy if it arrives soon. Only two results are now realistic – an England win and a draw, with interruptions helping increase odds of the latter.