MANCHESTER, England, (Reuters) – England ended a well contested first day of the fourth and final test against South Africa on 260 for six with the late loss of Ben Stokes giving heart to the tourists.
Going into the final test, England lead the series 2-1 and will be hopeful of sealing a first home series win over the South Africans since 1998.
But Joe Root’s side will be slightly disappointed that having won the toss, none of their top order were able to go on and make a big score.
Opener Alastair Cook made 46, skipper Root added 52 and Stokes looked impressive until he went in the penultimate over of the day for 58.
England kept the same side that eased to victory in the previous match at The Oval, whilst the visitors’ bowling attack had to make do without injured pace duo Vernon Philander and Chris Morris, replaced by Theunis de Bruyn and Duanne Olivier.
Fast bowler Kagiso Rabada looked in his best form of the tour and ended the day on a high, bowling Stokes after softening him up with a couple of quick, short deliveries with the second new ball.
Despite the loss of opener Keaton Jennings for 17, England reached 67 for one at lunch, and when the sun finally came out in the afternoon, Cook and Tom Westley looked well set to stay at the crease for a while.
But South Africa struck three times after lunch to keep the contest in the balance.
Cook was first to go, caught behind by Quinton de Kock off the bowling of spinner Keshav Maharaj for 46, and the fielders’ celebration showed the importance of his wicket. De Kock was the hero again when he produced a superb diving catch to claim the wicket of Westley for 29, off the bowling of Rabada, and at 92 for three, England needed a steadying influence.
Fortunately for the hosts, that came from a 52-run partnership between Root and Dawid Malan, but shortly before tea Malan (18) chased a wide delivery from Morne Morkel, flashing an edge to Faf du Plessis at second slip.
A Root and Stokes partnership is always a threat for England and the pair were laying the foundations for a fruitful collaboration, putting on 43, before Olivier trapped the England skipper leg before.
Jonny Bairstow joined Stokes at the crease and they looked to have seen things through to the close, before Rabada’s late wicket forced Toby Roland-Jones to the crease as nightwatchman.
Before the start of play, a presentation was made to England bowler James Anderson in front of the Pavilion, to mark the official naming of the James Anderson End. The opposite end of the stadium is named after another Lancashire and England bowler, Brian Statham.