“Root’s drop,” says the subject line of an email from George Wigley. “Great captaincy from Root: he wants Bess’s five-for to be top order, unsullied by tail enders. The foresight!”
Rain stops play!
Mid-44th over: South Africa 113-5 (Nortje 14, de Kock 0) The rain gets heavy quite quickly, like a conversation about your love life. The umpires take the players off and signal an early lunch. The morning belongs to Dom Bess, with a little help from Ollie Pope – just a couple of 22-year-olds, living the dream.
“Just woken (Well, it IS Saturday) and checked in,” said Adam Goves, “in sleepy Norfolk”, a quarter of an hour ago. “Surely Bess could have parried that C&B to Pope?! It’s totally messed up the aesthetic of an otherwise perfect scorecard, or am I being a bit greedy?”
43rd over: South Africa 113-5 (Nortje 14, de Kock 0) Denly is still on, and still collecting dots, though he does dish up one bad ball which Nortje dispatches through midwicket. Bad news, lads: rain is falling.
42nd over: South Africa 109-5 (Nortje 10, de Kock 0) So the best day of Pope’s career has been followed by the best day of Bess’s. Amazing stuff. For the good of the game, we could now do with a scintillating counter-attack from de Kock.
Wicket!! van der Dussen b Bess 24 (SA 109-5)
Dom Bess gets his five-for! Not his best ball, short and wide, but it turns enough to take the inside edge as van der Dussen shapes to cut. Bess has five for 41, and Joe Root no longer has to feel bad about that drop.
41st over: South Africa 109-4 (Nortje 10, van der Dussen 24) One batsman’s aggression infects the other as Nortje cuts Denly for his first four and reaches double figures off his 81st ball. At this rate, he’ll be 42 not out when South Africa secure the draw on Monday night.
40th over: South Africa 103-4 (Nortje 6, van der Dussen 23) Out of nowhere, van der Dussen tucks into Bess. A lofted on-drive for four, a force into the covers for two, a slog-sweep for four more, and then, with the field in sudden retreat, an easy single. Is this a change in the weather?
39th over: South Africa 93-4 (Nortje 6, van der Dussen 12) Spin from both ends! Bess’s Laker finds his Lock in the form of Joe Denly. who took his first Test wickets in Cape Town. He makes a tidy start, going for just a single.
38th over: South Africa 92-4 (Nortje 6, van der Dussen 11) The scoreboard is suddenly rocking, but only because a big turner from Bess goes for four byes.
“An English red-headed XI?” says Ian Forth. “Bell, Crawley Z, Collingwood, Bairstow J, Morgan (captain), Pope, Stokes, Bairstow D (wkpr), Batty, Sidebottom A, Sidebottom R. 12th man: Fairbrother.” Combustible but effective.
37th over: South Africa 88-4 (Nortje 6, van der Dussen 11) Nortje, after making three off 66 balls, sensationally doubles his score with a leg glance off Broad.
“The Smarmy Army,” muses Peter Gingold (26th over). “Nice idea. But, sad to say, they’d have to stay in the UK on account of emissions from international flights.”
36th over: South Africa 84-4 (Nortje 3, van der Dussen 10) Bess’s arm ball kisses the edge as Nortje goes back and Root, at slip, spills a simple chance. Bess responds with no more than a rueful grimace, which is big of him given that that should have been his first Test five-for.
Here’s David Winter in Paris, questioning the very process of the OBO. “Are you live reporting on the third Test from the press box in Port Elizabeth, in the newsroom at Guardian HQ whilst surrounded by dynamic colleagues breaking news stories from around the world, or are you sat in your pants on your sofa at home?” That would be telling.
35th over: South Africa 83-4 (Nortje 3, van der Dussen 9) Broad tries a bouncer. Nortje faces the music, gets the splice on it, and would give a simple catch to short leg if Pope wasn’t so deep.
34th over: South Africa 83-4 (Nortje 3, van der Dussen 9) Nortje takes a single off Bess, who is now coming round the wicket, and van der Dussen plays the first attacking stroke since du Plessis. And it’s a very good one – a dance down the track and a clean hard hit past mid-on.
“Morning Tim.” Morning, Diana Powell. “What a magnificent bird on the photograph of the ground. What is it? Does it take catches on the boundary?” That bird has flown, alas – though perhaps somebody spotted it and can answer the question. All the time I should have spent with Observer’s Book of Birds went into Wisden.
33rd over: South Africa 78-4 (Nortje 2, van der Dussen 5) This collapse began with a caught-and-bowled and Broad comes close to another one as van der Dussen is deceived by a leg-cutter. And that’s drinks, with England so dominant that it’s hard to believe.
Matthew Doherty has a question. “Has this Test secretly been re-allocated to Old Trafford 1956?” It’s true that Bess is in with a chance of being both Laker and Lock here. According to our friends at Cricinfo, he’s the first England spinner to take four wickets in the first 25 overs of a Test innings since Graeme Swann at Cardiff in 2011. But that was a second innings, and it didn’t even last 25 overs.
32nd over: South Africa 78-4 (Nortje 2, van der Dussen 5) Bess keeps it tight as van der Dussen clips to midwicket for a single and Nortje blocks his way to 50 (balls).
“Well,” says Richard Mansell, “if one is South African this is as depressing as it must be exhilarating for England fans. It looks like we are heading for an innings defeat.” I realise that words of comfort from an Englishman may only make things worse, but … Long way to go, and that rain has to come along some time.
31st over: South Africa 77-4 (Nortje 2, van der Dussen 4) Broad has two short covers and no fine leg, so they might as well be in Sri Lanka already. He breaks off from bowling cutters to present Nortje with a lovely inswinger, which very nearly clips the off bail.
30th over: South Africa 77-4 (Nortje 2, van der Dussen 4) Anrich Nortje keeps Bess out and nicks a single off the last ball. He’s now faced 39 balls, more than anyone else in this innings except Elgar.
“Morning Tim,” says David Horn, “and what a fine one it’s turning out to be. Was wondering how Matt Parkinson might be feeling? Dom Bess wasn’t even in the original squad. Are we picking leg spinners for a tour just for the craic? I’m assuming he’s heading for the door marked ‘Mason Crane’ about now.” Ha, you’d be spot-on if there wasn’t a tour of Sri Lanka next. Parkinson will presumably be there unless Adil Rashid finds a miracle cure for his shoulder.
29th over: South Africa 76-4 (Nortje 1, van der Dussen 4) By playing noticeably straight, van der Dussen deals better with Broad and picks up another two.
“Good morning from Port Elizabeth,” said Piet Morant, half an hour ago. “Looking forward to your fine commentary, especially since I turned down tickets at work from my colleague Alan when I saw how likely it was to rain, hour on hour [Preamble, below]. He was sure the rain would not come until this evening, but said you can’t count on the forecasters. ‘No, Alan, you can’t!’ Now he’s at the ground and I’m stuck at home with my windy dog.” As Rob Smyth would say: ach, sorry.
28th over: South Africa 74-4 (Nortje 1, van der Dussen 2) Another maiden from Bess, who has 11-4-22-4 and has surely inked his name into the tour party for Sri Lanka.
27th over: South Africa 74-4 (Nortje 1, van der Dussen 2) Mark Wood takes a break to rest on Bess’s laurels. Stuart Broad enters the fray and almost joins in the fun as Rassie van der Dussen, flummoxed by a cutter, chips into the covers, not far from Joe Denly.
26th over: South Africa 72-4 (Nortje 1, van der Dussen 0) Bess whistles through a maiden to Nortje, with scarcely a thought for people trying to write OBOs.
“Looking forward to a great day,” wrote Leo a couple of wickets ago. “Meanwhile… ‘not even Jerusalem dampens the excitement’? [08:02] So what do we really think of the Barmy Army? Did I also detect a slight world-weariness creeping into the OBO yesterday as whoever was writing suggested he or she was somewhat unbeguiled by the continued carryings-on of the Crazy Corps? Has what started so many years ago as a slightly self-deprecatory unit of hard-core England supporters willing to brave the rigours of sometimes challenging foreign travel developed into something that, instead, now rather prominently displays elements of the Great British psyche perhaps better kept at home? And, if so, what can be done?
“Last night I had a dream… that, as an antidote, we Guardian Readers started to consider organising a small rival force of travelling supporters that will go out of their way to show another side of the English character. A group that will aim to ingratiate themselves with the host nation, cheering rather than denigrating the opposition at every opportunity, backing wholeheartedly the umpires’ adjudications, and taking care to compliment the ground staff on preparing such superb wickets! Who knows, taking the lead from the delightful Japanese World Cup fans a couple of years ago, this newly Regenerated Regiment could even stick around to help clean up the stadium after the day’s play. Come on, Guardian Readers! Why not?! After, of course, each of us has dutifully subscribed and contributed to the paper proper, let us join together to form our own brand of more ‘woke’ and enlightened supportership, We could do it! Come on! Let’s hear it for The Guardian’s own Smarmy Army.”
25th over: South Africa 72-4 (Nortje 1, van der Dussen 0) The nightwatchman is in danger of ending up not out here. Nortje almost falls to Wood, fending close to the inevitable Pope at short leg, but then plays a wily tuck that gets him off the mark, and, more importantly, up the other end. Wood has the unlikely figures of 7-4-7-0. He has been far more threatening than Bess, but the pitch is on Bess’s side, and so are the gods.
“On the pop quiz question [22nd over],” says Alex Bramble, “it has to be the stylistically contrasting David Ivon Gower and Alastair Nathan Cook.” We have a winner. “And,” he goes on, “I’m struggling to contain my enthusiasm about Pope; I haven’t felt this excited since, well, Joe Root, and Iron Bell before that (and yes it looks like Pope deserves such exalted comparisons!).” It does.
24th over: South Africa 71-4 (Nortje 0, van der Dussen 0) Faf had actually started well, dancing down the track to off-drive Bess for four, then repeating the trick next ball. But Bess stuck at it and got lucky. Poor old South Africa – they’re making England’s youngest players look like world-beaters.
WICKET!! du Plessis c Pope b Bess 8 (SA 71-4)
Another one! Another big one! Faf du Plessis tucks Bess round the corner, where the unstoppable Pope pops up to take a simpler catch at square short leg. Dom Bess has FOUR FOR 22. The world has gone completely mad.
23rd over: South Africa 63-3 (Nortje 0, du Plessis 0) Another maiden from Wood, who seems to be adding parsimony to his arsenal. If he could just stay fit, he might well be England’s Mitchell Johnson.
“I know this is so yesterday,” says James Gladstone, “but what kept me awake here in Chiangmai last night was ‘what the hell is a former redhead’, and subsequently – could there ever be or have been an XI of redheads given we’ve got potentially 3 already…?” I shudder to think what you’ve started.
22nd over: South Africa 63-3 (Nortje 0, du Plessis 0) Root had just moved Pope to silly point, so full credit for that and time for the doubters to be silenced. What a match Pope is having. Yesterday, aged 22, he became the youngest right-hander to make a hundred for England since Colin Cowdrey in 1954. In the past 66 years, two left-handers were even younger – can you name them?
Wicket!! Elgar c Pope b Bess 35 (SA 63-3)
An inside edge, a pop off the pad, a dive forwards from silly point – and England have the wicket they most wanted.
21st over: South Africa 61-2 (Elgar 33, Nortje 0) Wood’s pace again bothers Elgar, who flaps at a short one. The ball loops up and would be caught if there were two leg slips. Can’t blame Root for that.
20th over: South Africa 60-2 (Elgar 32, Nortje 0) It’s Dom Bess at the other end, so no Stuart Broad for now. He too opens with a maiden, but there are no alarms for the nightwatchman Nortje.
19th over: South Africa 60-2 (Elgar 32, Nortje 0) Wood does it again, third ball, and twice hurries Elgar into crabby deflections with a crooked bat. As first overs of the day go, that’s superb. But already the commentators are chuntering about a missing catcher, at second slip. Root did well on one side, with a short leg and a leg slip, but something in him keeps on wanting to overdo the caution. Maybe it’s the years he spent watching Alastair Cook setting the field.
It’s Mark Wood (hooray) and he opens with a jaffa – angled into the left-handed Elgar, and jagging past him. Not even Jerusalem can dampen the excitement.
“What times we live in,” says Bill Hargreaves. “Looking forward avidly to a day’s Test coverage. Thanks, in advance, for the great commentary, Tim.” Steady on. That could be like saying thanks, in advance, for the great captaincy, Joe.
I don’t believe it
Not only are England in charge, but the weather is better than forecast and the day seems to be starting on time. Something must be about to go horribly wrong, and Abhijato Sensarma is onto it. “The England Test side is easily one of the most volatile sporting outfits in the world. They oscillate from positions of comfort and advantage to ones of disarray and disadvantage, often within the same session. Yesterday was their best day in Test cricket for quite some time – the experienced players kept a cool head, while the young ones showed adequate style on their way to substance. The media is printing positive headlines for this team after a long time. If they do not follow it up with classical confusion, rusty bowling, and average fielding to surrender their advantage today, would the world even make sense anymore?”
Morning everyone. England’s cricketers have just woken up to face an unfamiliar challenge: how do you follow a perfect day? Yesterday they had one fresh-faced 22-year-old making a masterly hundred, and then another grabbing two top-order wickets. England finished the day 439 ahead, with Dom Bess lording it at one end and Mark Wood delivering thunderbolts at the other. The good news for South Africa is that their task is simple enough: all they have to do is dig themselves out of a deep hole.
One piece of evidence is on their side. So far in the third Test, not a single wicket has fallen before lunch. England should be able to change that curious fact with their tails up and a nightwatchman to bowl at – although, the last time he found himself doing this job, Anrich Nortje made a handy fortje.
Dean Elgar has been his usual craggy self with 32 not out, and the pitch is slow, verging on dead for the seamers once the ball goes soft. So there may yet be a twist, but, for the moment, England are right on top.
Joe Root even got away with impersonating the rather dopey captain he used to be – keeping Sam Curran on too long, bringing Wood on too late, and being so slow to surround the bat that you wondered if he’d misread the scoreboard and thought he had 299 to play with, not 499. As it is, South Africa need 300 to avoid the follow-on, and they’ve got one-fifth of the way there, at the cost of one-fifth of the wickets. So that element of the match is nicely poised.
The weather forecast, alas, is gloomy, with every hour of the day being given a 50-to-60-per-cent chance of rain. But still, the glass is almost half full. See you at 10am Port Elizabeth time, 8am GMT, for the next episode in an absorbing series.