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Steyn strikes even scales for South Africa

Pace spearhead takes three wickets on return as Compton, Taylor take England to 179 for 4 on first day

Steyn strikes even scales for South Africa - Cricket News
A series billed as a potential epic produced a first day that did nothing to change those perceptions, in spite of the weather reducing it to 65 overs. South Africa rediscovered the hot, comforting thrill of a Dale Steyn-fuelled thrust after it won the toss and elected to bowl under leaden skies, but England countered with a stand of 125 between Nick Compton and James Taylor before closing on 179 for 4 on Saturday (December 26).

But for the dismissal of Taylor late in the day, when he became Steyn’s third victim, England could feel that it came out of the series’ opening salvos on top. While Steyn won the opening skirmish hands down, having both Alastair Cook and Alex Hales caught behind the wicket in an opening spell of 2 for 11 in six overs that came either side of a rain delay, Compton and Taylor showed that they were equal to anything South Africa could throw at them. Compton did what he does best, batting time for his unbeaten 63, while Taylor was his usual pugnacious self in scoring 70 – his second fifty in as many Tests since returning to the England side.

From 12 for 2 and 49 for 3, England had recovered to 174 for 3 and was looking forward to easier conditions on Sunday when Steyn returned for one final spell in the gathering gloom. Taylor could have left a wide delivery alone but offered a weary shot and a thin edge through to the ‘keeper, giving Steyn figures of 15.1-3-29-3 on his first day back from an injury lay-off.

With warm, sunny days forecast for the remainder of the Test, South Africa needed to take advantage of what is likely to be the best bowling day of the match. Heavy overnight rain and early morning drizzle meant that Hashim Amla’s decision to bowl first was relatively straightforward, even when presented with a dry pitch that turned from the 19th over.

When rain stopped play for the second time midway through the afternoon session with England on 55 for 3, everything appeared to be falling into place for the home side. Steyn had ripped out the two early wickets in a spell of high theatre, using his extreme pace and sheer sense of drama to draw England’s openers into shots they had no reason to play.

Dane Piedt had caught Joe Root in front with his very first delivery, trapping England’s most dangerous batsman lbw just when he looked to have seen off the home side’s chief threats. And the stop-start nature of the day was allowing Steyn to ease back into his first competitive match after injury with regular breaks, which was useful given South Africa’s decision to go into the match with just four specialist bowlers, one of them a spinner.

That feeling changed in the second half of the session as Compton continued to counter South Africa’s aggression with a pacifism that would impress any Buddhist, and Taylor played a feisty innings that the optimistic among England’s fans might see as the embodiment of its brave new era. Stiaan van Zyl was brought on for a trundle as early as the 33rd over, Taylor showed off his skill against spin with a strike rate of more than 70 against Piedt, and Steyn spent a short period before tea back in the changing room.

He returned after the break and allayed any fears of an injury flare-up with another quick spell, but the ball was old, the pitch docile and Compton and Taylor looked comfortable as their partnership continued to grow. When Steyn was replaced by the left-arm spin of Dean Elgar, England’s ascendancy felt clear, and Compton went to his half-century from 146 deliveries a couple of overs later. Steyn’s late strike when he returned from the opposite end left things level, and with an early start scheduled on Sunday, South Africa will sniff opportunity once again.

Serene throughout, Compton was nevertheless unyielding, taking on the short ball when it seemed sensible and driving exquisitely through the covers. Having battled through difficult conditions to set the platform for an aggressive middle order, in some sense Compton’s job is already done, but he will no doubt have his sights set on more. His grandfather Denis’s top score at the ground – the 72 he scored here in 1948 – will only be the first target.


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