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Root ton headlines gripping day

South Africa and England pushed each other hard on a thrilling surface in Johannesburg

Root ton headlines gripping day - Cricket News
Joe Root plays a stroke.
Joe Root chose the most entertaining day of an already absorbing series to score one of his finest centuries to date, and in the process put England back in control of a Test that appeared to be slipping away from them.

England’s best batsman had played second fiddle to his teammates in the first couple of Tests against South Africa, but on Friday (January 15) he pulled England from 91 for four in response to the home side’s 313 all out to 238 for five before bad light stopped play. Root went to stumps unbeaten on 106 having produced a classy innings on a quite brilliant Test pitch.

There was thrilling bounce, beautiful carry and always something for South Africa’s fast bowlers, particularly with indentations having been made in the surface when it was softer on Day 1. With such a fine balance between bat and ball, Bethuel Buthelezi can be proud of his first Test pitch at the Wanderers, where he took over as head groundsman from the almost legendary Chris Scott in October.

The morning session on Day 2 undoubtedly belonged to South Africa, with their tail wagging further to take their total from an overnight 267 for 7 to 313 all out, before England’s openers were both removed. Although overnight batsmen Chris Morris (28) and Kagiso Rabada (24) fell within the space of four deliveries with the score on 281, debutant Hardus Viljoen hit his first ball in Test cricket for four and went on to share a last-wicket stand of 32 with Morne Morkel.

That gave South Africa the psychological lift of passing 300, and with Viljoen hitting 20 not out at better than a run a ball and Morkel making 12, every one of the Proteas had reached double figures - the third time South Africa had achieved this in Test cricket. With Dean Elgar’s 46 remaining the top score in the innings, 313 was the lowest total by a team who all passed single digits.

Having seen England fail to make use of the new ball in helpful conditions on day one, the South African quicks attacked the stumps better and found early reward. Rabada bowled his finest spell in Test cricket to date, sending down six overs that cost just seven runs and brought the wicket of Alex Hales, who was caught on the crease and edged to AB de Villiers at second slip.

Then in the 11th over, Viljoen was unleashed for the first time and became the third South African to take a wicket with his first delivery in Test cricket, as Alastair Cook was caught down the leg side for the second straight innings. On this occasion, Dane Vilas deserved credit for an excellent diving catch. Nick Compton was also hassled regularly by Rabada, but reached lunch a relieved man with England on 27 for 2.

If that seemed like a fun morning, it was followed by the most gripping session of an already intriguing series, the two teams going toe-to-toe over 26 overs that yielded 135 runs and two wickets.

After being dropped on six by de Villiers off the bowling of Morris, Compton sped to 26 before Rabada returned and found some late movement to catch the edge. Elgar held on at second slip, and England were 74 for three. That became 91 for four when Morkel, finally enjoying some rhythm, had Taylor smartly caught at short leg by Temba Bavuma. Morkel then greeted Ben Stokes with a delivery that hit the splice of the bat, followed by a monstrous short ball that threatened to take the batsman’s head off. Trailing by 222, England were up against it.

Yet Joe Root had already been going well at the other end, and neither he nor Stokes are inclined to shirk a challenge. As South Africa became just a little over-eager on a pitch where that was not entirely necessary, the pair put on 50 in just 35 balls with a series of thrilling strokes. Root went to 50, and the highest score in the match, and at tea England were 162 for four and approaching level pegging. When they moved past 200, with Stokes having gone to 50 in 46 balls and the 100 partnership having been reached in just 85, they were on top.

Four South Africans had fallen to cross-batted shots in their innings, with the indentations producing less predictable bounce than in Cape Town last week, so it was no great surprise when the shot accounted for Stokes. After reaching 58 he misjudged the height of a Morkel short ball and got a leading edge that was easily taken by the bowler, halting the 111-run stand and giving South Africa some much-needed relief.

However Root continued to play the shot with aplomb - even if he was fortunate to see a couple of top edges fly over the slip cordon for four - and went to his ninth Test hundred in just 126 deliveries, the second fifty having come at a run a ball. One over later the light deteriorated sufficiently for the umpires to halt the game, with 80 minutes and 25 overs still scheduled on the day. Some of that will be made up for with an early start on Saturday. Given the pace at which this game is developing, it would be foolish for anyone to arrive late.

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