x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cook serves up a timely reminder

England start day three 240 runs behind South Africa after promising start to their reply.

KINGSMEAD // A lot of faith has been shown in Alastair Cook. Touted as a future captain, the out of form Cook has already had double reason to celebrate this week. He turned 25 on Christmas Day and, in this match, became the youngest England player to earn 50 Test caps.

Cook finished yesterday on 31 not out and you sense that if the opener can go on to make a really big score and repay the selectors, England have an excellent chance of winning the second Test. Without a fifty in his last eight Test innings, Cook will resume alongside Jonathan Trott (17 not out) this morning with England on 103 for one, trailing South Africa by 240 runs. Rain and bad light again intervened yesterday but 74 overs were still possible under floodlights on another day of gripping, close-fought cricket.

The wicket was expected to offer plenty of assistance to England's quicks early on but, instead, Mark Boucher and AB de Villiers increased an overnight 175 for five by 58 further runs before the visitors fought back. Boucher took the game to the visitors early in the day but England got their man courtesy of their first successfully overturned referral this series. Umpire Amiesh Saheba had given the wicketkeeper-batsman not out to a Graeme Swann lbw appeal but TV replays proved the ball would have hit middle stump halfway up.

De Villiers continued where Boucher had left off, as Anderson got the treatment after England had taken the new ball. England, so disciplined on Saturday, did not get their lines or lengths right. But Stuart Broad came on and immediately found his rhythm, picking up the key wicket of de Villiers, who nicked to Matt Prior for fifty. Things got even better for England by lunch as Swann picked up his third wicket of the innings; Paul Harris lbw despite the South African spinner's unsuccessful referral attempt. TV umpire Steve Davis was a busy man with Swann denied the referred wicket of Morne Morkel before lunch. But Swann was to get his fourth wicket with Morkel lbw for 23 immediately after the break, despite the left-handed batsman's futile, desperate referral.

England will have felt quite comfortable at that point but Dale Steyn's remarkable 47, which included three lofted sixes in the space of three Swann overs, tipped the balance back the way of the hosts. The Proteas speedster eventually egded one to Prior off the bowling of Anderson as South Africa were bowled out for 343. But Andrew Stauss's own response was equally dramatic as he laid into the South African bowlers with a full array of shots.

The England captain saw off Makhaya Ntini, hooking him twice to the boundary before unleashing a fine straight drive for another four. The South African veteran conceded 25 runs off his first three overs. Strauss was in majestic form, cover driving Jacques Kallis before hooking the all-rounder next ball and reaching his fifty off just 49 balls. England raced to 59 without loss off just 14 overs at tea, with Cook on eight.

An extended tea break for light rain delayed things and Strauss survived a nervy moment straight afterwards. Aleem Dar ruled Morkel's lbw shout in the affirmative but Strauss immediately referred it, claiming he had edged the ball on to his pad and Davis bravely agreed with the England captain despite the lack of conclusive evidence. If Morkel was aggrieved, he did not show it and instead comprehensively bowled Strauss for 54 soon after. After that, Cook started to play with real authority, taking on Harris, before bad light ended play an hour-and-a-half early, just as it had done on Saturday.

England will feel they have the slight advantage, especially if Cook can continue in the same vein today. sports@thenational.ae