Proteas’ fragile batting crumbles under England onslaught

Proteas’ fragile batting crumbles under England onslaught
England bowler Stuart Broad celebrates after taking the wicket of Dean Elgar during day one of the second Test match between England and South Africa at Old Trafford on 25 August 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

South Africa 151 (Kagiso Rabada 36, Jimmy Anderson 3-32). England 111-3 (Jonny Bairstow 38*). England trail by 40 runs after day one.

Sometimes, winning the toss is not a good thing. Proteas skipper Dean Elgar’s decision to bat first under grey skies, on a sporty pitch, was in retrospect, one of his few missteps as captain. 

But once he, and presumably coach Mark Boucher, had opted to play two spinners with the inclusion of Simon Harmer at the expense of left-arm seamer Marco Jansen, the die was cast. If they won the toss they were going to bat. 

The Proteas clearly want to bowl last at Old Trafford, when the pitch is expected to take turn on days four and five. But the match might not go that far after South Africa crumbled to 151 all out. In truth, it was a decent total considering they were 92 for seven soon after lunch on day one. 

By the end of day one England were well poised on 111 for three, just 40 runs behind, with Jonny Bairstow well set on 38 and Zak Crawley on 17. 

Crawley’s stubborn stay hardly included an aggressive shot, which might be more detrimental to his future in the aggressive, ‘Bazball’ era of England cricket, than making a duck, while attempting to blaze the ball over midwicket in the first over. 

Day two’s first hour of play could be the most decisive period of the match. If the Proteas can break the Bairstow/Crawley resistance, and nab a few more wickets, the game might be alive. If England survive that session without more damage and wipe out the deficit, they will be well on their way to levelling the series at 1-1. 

Harmer might be forced to justify his selection far sooner than anticipated. He bowled the final over of day one, and extracted turn, which was something for the Proteas to cling to after a chastening day. 

Keegan Petersen of South Africa guides a shot past Ben Stokes of England during day one of the LV= Insurance second Test match between England and South Africa at Old Trafford on 25 August 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo: Michael Steele / Getty Images)

Happy skippers 

England skipper Ben Stokes said he was happy because he would’ve bowled first anyway had he won the toss. Both captains got what they wanted, but an hour in to play, Elgar, back in the pavilion after a scratchy 12 off 42 balls, sporting a furrowed brow. 

The Proteas slumped to 41 for three after a torrid opening spell from the evergreen Jimmy Anderson and a probing burst from a rejuvenated Ollie Robinson. Stuart Broad continued the assault when he came on as first change. 

The England seamers beat the edge frequently and asked questions that the Proteas batters battled to answer. Robinson extracted bounce off the wicket and Anderson and Broad seamed it menacingly. 

Wickets fell regularly and quickly, with all the batters making starts before failing. After Sarel Erwee Keegan Peterson looked comfortable. 

While Elgar was scratching and flailing on one end, Petersen batted as if the pitch were a tarred road. Until he edged a decent, but not unplayable ball from Broad to Joe Root at second slip. It was a pretty 21 on a day when an ugly 50 would’ve been much more useful. 

And so it went. Rassie van der Dussen suffered a rough LBW decision that he reviewed, only to see the “impact” and the “hitting stumps” adjudged “umpires call.” 

Under the rules, after on-field umpire Chris Gaffaney had given him out, Van der Dussen had to depart. It was cruel, but in keeping with the general batting malaise. 

If Rassie was hard done by, the frail Aiden Markram undid himself. As usual, the elegant right-hander looked superb. Until he didn’t. Shortly before lunch, Stokes brought himself into the attack and bowled two half-tracker short balls. 

Sarel Erwee of South Africa looks on forlornly after being dismissed off the bowling of James Anderson of England during day one of the LV= Insurance second Test match between England and South Africa at Old Trafford on 25 August 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo: Michael Steele / Getty Images)

Markram tried to pull the first one and it plopped in between two converging fielders. You’d have thought the mistimed shot was enough to refocus Markram. 

But almost immediately Stokes dished up another short ball, more in hope than expectation. Markram took the bait and skied it into the gloves of wicketkeeper Ben Foakes. Another failure. Another nail in his Test coffin. 

While scoring 14, Markram moved past 2000 Test runs. His first 1000 runs came in just 18 innings. His next 1000 took a further 41 innings’. Markram doesn’t so much need a batting coach as a psychologist because his constant failures have gone way past mere technique problems. 

The wickets continued to tumble as England’s probing seamers nibbled around the off stump and snared their victims. Anderson dismissed Harmer and Keshav Maharaj with consecutive balls and Broad accounted for Kyle Verreynne. 

It was left to bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje to wag the tail. The pair put on a stubborn 35 for the ninth wicket. Rabada eventually top scored with a well-played 36, to save some blushes. 

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Rabada, Nortje and Lungi Ngidi then combined to reduce England to 43 for three with three wonderful strikes in England’s reply. 

Ngidi’s lovely seam movement saw Alex Lees (4) edge to Verreynne. Nortje, bowling 150km/h removed Ollie Pope (23) through sheer pace. The England right-hander had no answer and was bowled off an inside edge. 

Rabada’s second spell accounted for Joe Root (9). The decorated England batting maestro was undone by a superb ball that seamed away, catching the edge where Erwee juggled the catch before pouching it. 

After the day’s play, Rabada, the true standout, had to defend the decision to bat in conditions more suited to his favourite discipline. 

“Generally, if you’re playing two spinners, you want to bat first,” said Rabada. “As you saw, the wicket is becoming drier by the minute. It’s quite slow. You saw Simon (Harmer) was in the game with his second ball already. 

“We’re playing two spinners for a reason. It’s quite dry out there.” 

And he refused to throw the batting unit under the bus. 

“Our batters know what they have to do, none of them are getting out on purpose,” said Rabada. 

“There’s quality in our lineup, but it’s a young one. It’s about gaining experience, they know what they’ve done wrong. As a team, we’re backing every player to do his best. If it doesn’t come off, you carry on. 

“I can assure you they are taking responsibility. They’ll try their utmost best. You can’t go pointing fingers, it’s energy-sapping. The past is the past, we have to look forward and apply ourselves better.” DM


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