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England seizes advantage against Steyn-less South Africa

A solid batting effort takes visiting side to 172 for 3 and a lead of 261 at the close of the third day

England seizes advantage against Steyn-less South Africa - Cricket News
Joe Root in action against South Africa.
The apparent cracks in the South African team widened on day three of the first Test, as England worked itself methodically towards a significant advantage, helped by a well-rounded unit.

After taking South Africa’s last six wickets in the morning session to bowl the home side out for 214, England progressed to 172 for 3 by the close to lead by 261. Even if a declaration might be a long way off, the visiting side may already have enough runs on the board.

Adding to the South Africans’ woes were Dale Steyn’s struggle with a shoulder problem, which required a scan, and a raft of dropped catches. Three clear opportunities were spurned as well as a couple of half-chances. The two easier ones even fell to the two players who should have felt on top of their game - centurion Dean Elgar, and AB de Villiers.

In order to match an increasingly confident side, South Africa needed its overnight partnership of Elgar and Temba Bavuma to bat long, but those hopes were dashed with the second ball of the day when Stuart Broad had Bavuma play on. Confirmation that the entire South African lower-middle order has a dicey feel about it came when JP Duminy failed to deal with an admittedly rather good Moeen Ali delivery, which took the edge and carried to slip. With Moeen having Kyle Abbott caught bat and pad, South Africa was 156 for 7 with a little more than half an hour played.

South Africa had enlisted the services of Lance Klusener in the lead-up to the match to coax a few extra runs from their brittle lower order, and there was a reminder of Steyn’s batting ability when he provided Elgar with some much-needed support, with the pair adding 54 for the eighth wicket.

In the course of the stand, Elgar went to his fourth Test century - a significant achievement not only in the context of the match, but also in the rebuilding process. He now has three hundreds and two fifties (one of them an important 83 against Australia) since nailing down the opening slot last February. No other South African opener has scored a century since October 2013, when Graeme Smith made a double against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. The identity of who should open alongside Elgar is unclear, but at least his place is settled.

He became the sixth South African to carry his bat in a Test innings - and the first since Gary Kirsten in Faisalabad in 1997 - when Moeen broke his partnership with Steyn and then Steven Finn grabbed the last two wickets. Ali finished with 4 for 69, while Broad had a brilliant 4 for 25 from 15 overs.

With a deficit of 89 on a wearing surface, South Africa needed a quick response but saw Steyn jog off the field clutching his shoulder midway through his fourth over. He re-emerged soon after - and South Africa was able to celebrate the dismissal of Alastair Cook lbw to Dane Piedt - but after bowling just three further deliveries he was off again. This time a scan was booked which kept him away from the action until the final hour of the day, when he took the field in the hope of bowling again in the morning.

While he was away Alex Hales holed out off Piedt for 26, but Elgar put down a sitter from Nick Compton at second slip and in the next over de Villiers dropped Joe Root off the bowling of Morne Morkel. England went to tea on 58 for 2, leading by 147, when it could have been four down and hauled back towards parity.

Compton and Root made their good fortune count by extending their partnership to 71, and the England lead past 200, after the break. With South Africa looking flat, Compton eased to 45 when he was put down again, with de Villiers the culprit once more. This time it cost just four runs, as two balls later Compton edged one down the leg side, de Villiers took the catch and Morkel had his man.

Root had no further problems in working his way to 60 not out by the close as South Africa reverted increasingly to its spinners, while James Taylor looked comfortable for his unbeaten 24. With good weather forecast for the remainder of the match England has no reason to rush its declaration, especially with the opportunity to grind down South Africa’s remaining seamers with just two days between the end of this Test and the start of the second.

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