Joe Root scored his ninth Test century and arguably the most important of his career, taking the match and series situation into consideration, to give England every chance of taking the all-important first innings lead in the third Sunfoil Test match.
England finished day two only 75 runs adrift with 5 wickets in hand, including those of Root and Jonny Bairstow, after bad light and then rain brought an early close to Friday’s play at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium.
The Castle Lager Proteas must have felt well pleased with their position after their attack, made up largely of rookies, claimed the first four England wickets for 91 runs in reply to their own total of 313.
But Ben Stokes, as he had done in the second match at PPC Newlands, then led a daring counter-attack in which Root was not found wanting either. Stokes hit the fifth ball he faced for six and, by the time he had raced to 58 off 54 balls (9 fours and a six), Root was closing in on his century. More importantly, they had shared a partnership of 111 in only 15.5 overs, in what was easily the biggest of the match.
Root went on to reach an unbeaten 106 by the close (131 balls, 17 fours) and the England supporters will be hoping that the discomfort that was evident in the second half of his innings is not more serious than cramp.
With Bairstow as his partner – the wicketkeeper has already taken 6 catches in the match – and Moeen Ali to follow he has enough support to bat England into what could be a very important lead.
Kagiso Rabada was the pick of the South African attack while Hardus Viljoen had a memorable debut, dismissing England captain, Alastair Cook, with his first delivery in Test cricket.
Rabada also shared a 56-run partnership for the eighth South African wicket with Chris Morris, making it the third highest of the match to date and one that played the major role in enabling the Proteas to achieve their initial target of taking their total past 300.
The last four South African wickets were, in fact, worth 101 runs which was a substantial improvement on what they had achieved previously in the series.