140th over: England 414-7 (Pope 95, Bess 0) Maharaj comes on at the other end now – because what’s 51 overs between friends? – and Curran punishes a short ball by cutting with conviction for four, and then gets down the track and clatters another boundary past a diving deep mid-off before he perishes caught in the deep. England won’t mind overmuch, Curran having done precisely the job needed. Now that newly-frail England tail has a chance to wag with the pressure off.
Back to culinary nicknames, Peter Nower reminds us: “Unfortunately the nickname “cheeseboard” is already taken…” Ah, my kind of cricketer.
Wicket! Curran c Elgar b Maharaj 44, England 413-7
Curran’s cameo is curtailed, following two fours by holing out to deep midwicket where Elgar sees a swirling sky-high ball safely down into his hands.
139th over: England 404-6 (Pope 94, Curran 35) South Africa mix up their slow-bowling options, replacing Maharaj (who’s bowled 51 overs) with the part-time left-arm spin of Dean Elgar. Declaration bowling? It enables England to reach 400! anyhow, with Pope nudging a single to bring up the all too rare landmark. He almost induces a wicket too, as Curran miscues a high off-drive and Rabada at long-off is a bit too slow out of the blocks and it bounces in front of him. The strike is rotated agreeably to bring up a very handy 50 partnership.
138th over: England 399-6 (Pope 92, Curran 32) Pope moves into the 90s with a confident late cut off Nortje for two, and then takes a bit of a risk by getting too early and too forward on a pull from a short ball and it dollies dangerously high but doesn’t reach the man at deep midwicket, so it’s a single instead.
“Is the pinnacle of Root’s captaincy getting himself out for not much in order to get Rabada suspended?” wonders Elliott Carr-Barnsley. “4D chess from the lad.”
137th over: England 396-6 (Pope 89, Curran 32) The Barmy Army’s (absent?) trumpeter has been wholly eclipsed by the South African band’s full-on orchestra today – watch and learn, infernal Sheffield Wednesday/England band (actually, don’t). Pope nudges a single off Maharaj, and Curran ends the over with another blast down the ground for four. You know what, I reckon England are actually going to get 400 here.
136th over: England 391-6 (Pope 88, Curran 28) Nortje replaces the subdued Philander – he’s got a bit of an air of Mournie Morkel about him, I reckon – and Curran greets him by slashing hard and getting four hacked behind gully. He’s just what England need at the moment, even if not every attempted big hit comes off, as when he misjudges a not-short-enough ball next up and pulls it onto his pads.
“Why not go the dessert route on naming the Stokes/Pope combination?” drools Nick Killick. “BenOllie isn’t too far from Banoffee – solid technical base (pastry), sticky when the going is tough (toffee), a bit mad on occasion (bananas) and all topped off with some luxuriously indulgent stroke play (whipped cream). The perfect combo.” Maybe, but I’d like to ask about the cheeseboard first.
135th over: England 386-6 (Pope 87, Curran 24) Some pyrotechnics! The first for a while. Curran steps forward to Maharaj, meeting it on the bounce and cracks it with precision over the bowler’s head, and the boundary, for SIX. Pope scurries another single to mid-on to move within 13 of that thing they I won’t mention. Curran then cuts deftly for two to round off a productive over for the tourists.
134th over: England 376-6 (Pope 86, Curran 15) Curran cuts Philander fiercely for one, bringing back Pope to the strike, who pierces the field stylishly on the off for two.
Rob’s chat about early Noughties Vaughan and the earlier riffs on great non-retiring international retirements (Bell et al) reminds me of another whose disappearance from the international game went largely unheralded – Andy Caddick, who signed off with a seven-for at Sydney in the most significant of all dead-rubber wins in the Lean Years, and was never seen for England again. Matthew Hoggard rather shuffled away too without doing too much wrong.
133rd over: England 373-6 (Pope 84, Curran 14) Thanks Rob. I hope to be telling you about that hundred too, but I’m determined not to jinx it like I often do, so enough of this. Not least because Pope’s just endured a dicey over from Maharaj, facing a shout for a glance-behind, but there’s no reviews and it was brushing the pad not bat anyway. And two balls later, he gets even closer, drifting one past Pope’s outside-edge, De Kock whips off the bails but the batsman’s back foot is just inside the crease. Excellent over from the left-arm spinner.
That’s it from me. Tom Davies will hopefully tell you all about Ollie Pope’s maiden Test hundred – you can email him here. Thanks for your company and emails. Happy Friday!
132nd over: England 373-6 (Pope 84, Curran 14) Curran blasts Philander through extra-cover for four more. If Vern wasn’t retiring, and if Kagiso Rabada hadn’t been banned, there would be a case for leaving him out of the final Test. He suddenly looks very old, and England have neutralised him since the first innings of the series. That said, this pitch does him precisely no favours. Johannesburg should be better.
“Interesting that you mentioned Ramps just before Buttler got out,” says Richard O’Hagan. “After 40 Tests I’m beginning to wonder if Jos isn’t this generation’s Ramprakash, a player whose myriad talents never quite appear in the five-day game.”
I know what you mean, but I don’t completely agree. Ramps cracked first-class cricket, and then some, whereas Buttler has never done that.
131st over: England 368-6 (Pope 83, Curran 10) There’s plenty of turn for Maharaj to the left-handed Curran, who flicks him round the corner for three.
“The best name my housemate Iain and I can come up with, following the OBO from our couch in Auckland, using all the letters, is Spookepest,” says Aaron. “An anagram generator also suggests Pekepoos, but I prefer ours.”
Yours doesn’t have a Siouxsie and the Banshees soundtrack, though.
130th over: England 364-6 (Pope 82, Curran 7) The Vern returns. Sam Curran, after an unusually sedate start of two from 14 balls, laces an uppish drive wide of short extra cover for four. It was a risky shot but he played it well. England are inching towards the promised land of 400. The last time they did in the first innings of a Test (as opposed to their first innings) was at Perth in 2017, when Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow scored fine centuries. Life moves pretty fast.
“For many, Jos Buttler is meant to take over from Root as captain,” says Ian Copestake. “Perhaps his batting will improve once he has all that other stuff to worry about.”
129th over: England 359-6 (Pope 82, Curran 2) “Vaughan had the nervous 190s,” says Dominic O’Reilly, “and never did make it through them.”
Yes, good one. Normally the failure to reach a milestone is bittersweet, but with Vaughan I can’t help but smile. If I could go back in time to watch one England batsman from my cricket-watching lifetime, it would be Vaughan from July 2002 to January 2003.
128th over: England 356-6 (Pope 82, Curran 1) Replays show that Curran would have survived any review for that LBW appeal – but only just. It was hitting the stumps, but the point of contact with the pad was umpire’s call.
Pope has been becalmed either side of lunch, with only eight runs from his 32 deliveries. I hope he doesn’t panic and try to force things.
“Without wishing to stray into controversial territory, Bairstow and Stokes always seemed to bat very well together during the period before Ed Smith’s strange selection ideas saw Bairstow shuttled up and down the batting order at random,” says James Dark.
I think that’s a bit harsh on Ed Smith, not least because that partnership was producing diminishing returns long before he arrived. That said, their 399-run partnership at Cape Town was one for the books.
127th over: England 354-6 (Pope 80, Curran 0) Permission to start worrying whether Jos Buttler will ever crack Test cricket granted. Since his apparent breakthrough summer of 2018, he averages 28 from 15 Tests.
The new batsman Sam Curran, meanwhile, survives a big shout for LBW after pushing around a good delivery. South Africa have used both their reviews.
WICKET! England 354-6 (Buttler ct and b Maharaj 1)
Oh, Jos. That’s such a soft dismissal, a back-foot force that went straight back to the bowler Maharaj. It was a poor delivery, far too short, and it may have stopped in the pitch. Dominic Sibley fell in almost identical fashion in the second innings of the first Test.
126th over: England 353-5 (Pope 80, Buttler 1) Big Vern has only bowled 13 overs in this innings. Paterson continues to Buttler, who does well to repel a delivery that keeps a bit low. Uneven bounce on day two is England’s friend.
“Extraordinary that Test cricket is ‘so difficult’ that we apparently should allow adults to act like overtired kids,” says Dominic O’Reilly. “This is not a war zone or a natural disaster – it’s a game. If someone wants to embarrass themselves by acting like an arse then just ignore them. Don’t fine them and don’t justify them either. Treat them like a streaker by looking the other way until it’s over.”
125th over: England 353-5 (Pope 80, Buttler 1) I thought South Africa might bring Vernon Philander back to bowl at his new friend Jos Buttler. For now Maharaj continues, and Buttler gets off the mark with an easy drive through the covers. The match situation means he can treat this a bit like an ODI innings – 20 balls to have a look, and then the violence.
“It seems to me that Pope gets a bit stuck in the 70s,” says Richard O’Hagan. “I was just wondering if it is his version of the legendary ‘nervous nineties’. After all, it doesn’t have to be the nineties. KP had a problem with 158, and I always seem to be dismissed in the tens when I bat.”
You had to bring Ramps into this, didn’t you. You had to break our hearts all over again. (Also, if we’re playing a game of onedownmanship, I’ll see your tens and raise you the nervous noughties.)
124th over: England 351-5 (Pope 79, Buttler 0) That’s Paterson’s first Test wicket. He bowled an accomplished defensive spell to frustrate Stokes, who was increasingly desperately to push things forward. It was a magisterial innings from Stokes, all things considered: 120 from 214 balls with 12 fours and two sixes.
WICKET! England 351-5 (Stokes c Elgar b Patersn 120)
South Africa’s off-theory pays off. Stokes slaps a wide ball from Paterson straight to point, where Elgar takes a smart catch.
123rd over: England 351-4 (Stokes 120, Pope 79) Stokes wants another piece of Maharaj. Several, ideally. He fails to pierce the field with a reverse sweep and then drags an inside edge to short third man.
“I always thought Collingwood and Pietersen batted well together,” says Peter Norman. “Very different but somehow complimentary playing styles and characters, with the results to go with it.”
If not always the team results. But yes, absolutely. They’d be high on the list of England’s best middle-order partnerships of the last 50 years.
122nd over: England 350-4 (Stokes 119, Pope 79) “Given the discussion this morning, can I ask a genuine but clearly totally out of date question?” asks Gary. “Why ISN’T Ian Bell in the Test team? I think I missed something along the way – I’m sure his average is pretty good and he was at times almost Gower-like to watch …”
He was dropped – for a tour of South Africa in fact – after a dodgy 2015. I suspect England thought he would be back at some stage, but whenever there was a vacancy he wasn’t in great form.
121st over: England 348-4 (Stokes 118, Pope 78) Pope survives a run-out chance, with Rabada’s throw from mid-on just missing the stumps. And then Stokes is dropped by Nortje! He lifted Stokes high in the air towards wide long-on, where Nortje misjudged the flight of the ball. He managed to reach it, just about, but the ball went through his fingertips as he fell forward. Another single brings up the 200 partnership between Stopes and Pokes.
120th over: England 345-4 (Stokes 117, Pope 76) Nothing much to report. South Africa are bowling very defensively, and for the time being England are content to bat at a natural tempo.
“In these informal times, we need to look at Stokes and Pope’s first names,” says Matt Dony. “This partnership is clearly Bellie.”
119th over: England 343-4 (Stokes 115, Pope 76) Pope takes a single off Maharaj to move to his highest Test score.
“Are we seriously suggesting that Rabada is a better Test bowler than Brian Statham or Malcolm Marshall,” says John Murray. “They both hit top of off stump repeatedly and never engaged in hysterical reactions. Rabada has a temperament problem and has paid the price inevitable under the current demerit rules.”
I wasn’t aware anyone was suggesting that, seriously otherwise. I agree about the hysterical reactions, but imagine how it might be twisted if Rabada said, as Marshall did of Dilip Vengsarkar, “I not only wanted to get him out, I didn’t mind if I decapitated him in the process.”
118th over: England 341-4 (Stokes 114, Pope 75) Paterson starts after lunch to Stokes with the funkiest of fields: fifth slip, point, cover point, extra cover and mid-off. The hell Stokes cares. He takes the ring of fielders out of the game by walking down the track to cuff a boundary to the left of mid-off.
“How about going with alternative letters of Stokes and Pope’s names – creates a lovely sense of the baton being passed back and forth between batsmen,” says Nick Watts. “And who can argue with Sptookpees?”
“Last night, the consensus among the commentariat appeared to be that the game (at 224-4) was roughly even, or England were slightly ahead, but in his interview Zak Crawley said it was ‘a very good day for us’,” says Andrew Waters. “Youthful enthusiasm, I tutted. But in retrospect, it struck me that he was right.
“The new balls had been blunted, the bowlers tired in the heat, and two attacking batsmen well in at the crease with more to come. The game was completely set up for Stokes and co this morning, so it was a very good day. Now, it means nothing if they then don’t deliver, but Crawley’s quote made clear to me that England at the least have a coherent plan about how to win this cricket match, and possibly others, utilising their strengths. And that has been sorely lacking of late (other than – just go out and hit it).”
Yes, I like the way they have tried to bat this winter. I do think we obsess a bit too much about tempo, though. I wonder whether, as a consequence, certain players – Denly, Buttler – are torn between their natural game and their assumed role. But generally the signs are encouraging.
“There can be no better evidence of England’s newfound confidence,” says Richard O’Hagan, “than electing to go into a break on triple Nelson.”
“Does Cook and Pietersen count as a middle-order partnership?” says Stephen Brown. “They had a lot of great innings together and exemplify a lot of the contrasts you speak of: left/right, blocker/basher etc.”
I’d say you need two middle-order batsmen, although I don’t make the rules. I agree they were brilliant together, which made the fallout even sadder.
Nasser Hussain is on one about the decision to ban Kagiso Rabada
“I don’t agree with the decision. From what I saw yesterday, I don’t think that’s a demerit point. What did he do wrong? Was there any physical contact? Was there any sledging? A bowler shows some emotion. We sit in air-conditioned rooms and have this righteous, holier-than-thou attitude. I think we forget what it’s like out there in the heat of battle.
“If Jos Buttler – the calmest bloke on the planet – can stand behind the stumps and swear four times at Vernon Philander, you know the emotions of a game of cricket. This lad has had no physical contact, hasn’t said a word, he’s shown some emotion for bowling a jaffa. I tell you what, let’s have 11 robots out there, let’s take emotion out of the game.
“When you saw yesterday, did you think [points aggressively into the middle distance], ‘He must be banned for that, let’s get this lad out of the next game?’ [Would you want your kids celebrating like that, Nass?] Yes. I’d want my kids to show emotion. We’ll have robots, 11 robots. You can sit in an air-conditioned comm box and say, ‘Oh calm down, isn’t it a lovely game.’ We know it’s not a lovely game – we’ve played Test cricket. We know how much it takes out of you.”
That was sheer delightful punditry.
I forgot to say thanks for all your emails. I’m a bit behind – I swear it was easier to deal with an OBO inbox 15 years ago – so if your superior email hasn’t been published, that’s probably why. It’s definitely me. Oh aye.
117th over: England 335-4 (Stokes 108, Pope 75) A quiet over from Maharaj completes a near perfect morning for England: 27 overs, 111 runs and no wickets. Ben Stokes was imperious, Ollie Pope merely superb, and by the end South Africa’s collective spirit required an X-ray. See you in half an hour for the afternoon session.
One final thought: the absolute state of Ben Stokes right now.
116th over: England 333-4 (Stokes 107, Pope 74) My colleague Martin Rose tells me it was Stokes who encouraged Pope to review that LBW decision with only a couple of seconds remaining on the DRS timer. Stokes can do nothing wrong at the moment. If he fell into a barrel of Brexit, he’d come up clutching a united society.
115th over: England 331-4 (Stokes 105, Pope 74) Stokes skips back in his crease to drive Maharaj beautifully through the covers for four. Technically, he is close to the complete batsman. That’s another reason to admire Stokes – he works harder on his game than anyone in the England team. Not all geniuses rely on their natural ability; Kevin Pietersen was another one who spent half his life in the nets.
“Re: your earlier thoughts on England middle-order partnerships,” says Tim Barry, “are we seeing the emergence of Stopes?”
I know what you’re all thinking – POKES, YOU IDIOT, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD I’LL TRACK YOU DOWN AND TEACH YOU A THING OR TWO ABOUT PORTMANTEAUS WITH MY FISTS – but Tim might have a point. Stokes has to be the senior partner, surely. Stopes does sound a bit weird, though, and is not exactly challenging ‘cellar door’ when it comes to phonetic beauty.
114th over: England 326-4 (Stokes 100, Pope 74) “Is it just me that doesn’t like the narrative ‘Pope and Stokes lead England fightback after slow start’,” says Chris Lingwood. “I’d much rather it was ‘Pope and Stokes capitalise on unusually competent opening batting.’ Especially in the light of this morning. Look what happens when you are 20 for 3!”
Agreed. I think England have made good progress as a Test batting line-up this winter. Their cloth-cutting has noticeably improved.
REVIEW! England 326-4 (Pope not out 74)
Ollie Pope has an LBW decision overturned on review. He walked across his stumps to Paterson, missed a flick across the line and was hit on the pad. Bruce Oxenford gave it out on the field, and although Pope reviewed I thought it would be Umpire’s Call. But replays showed it was missing leg stump, so Pope survived. “You beauty!” shouted Joe Root on the England balcony.
BEN STOKES MAKES HIS NINTH TEST HUNDRED!
113.3 overs: England 326-4 (Stokes 100, Pope 74) Stokes drives Paterson for a single to reach a masterful century from 174 balls. He celebrates modestly, taking off his glove to salute his unwell father Ged, and then gets on with business. It’s Stokes’ third hundred in the last nine Tests – before that he had six in 53 – and another reminder, not that it’s required, that he has become England’s best batsman.
113th over: England 325-4 (Stokes 99, Pope 74) Maharaj changes ends and bowls a maiden to Pope. Although Pope has struggled slightly to rotate strike this morning, he has scored enough boundaries to keep things moving. He has 74 from 132 balls, Stokes 99 from 171.
112th over: England 325-4 (Stokes 99, Pope 74) Dane Paterson replaces Maharaj. South Africa’s seamers are bowling wide of off stump to a 7/2 field, an impromptu tribute to Jacques Kallis. Stokes plays a clever late cut for two to move within one run of giving us all another opportunity to get all misty-eyed about his greatness.
111th over: England 323-4 (Stokes 97, Pope 74) South Africa have looked pretty flat this morning, although that shouldn’t detract from the brilliance of England’s batting. Listen to him: the brilliance of England’s batting!
Meanwhile, here’s more on Kagiso Rabada’s ban.
110th over: England 319-4 (Stokes 95, Pope 72) Stokes moves into the nineties with a reverse sweep off Maharaj, and then clouts another slog sweep for four. That takes Stokes to 4,000 Test runs, and there are unconfirmed reports that he has done a bit of bowling as well.
109th over: England 313-4 (Stokes 89, Pope 72) Pope swivel-pulls Rabada gracefully round the corner for another boundary. That takes him into the seventies; I’d imagine his inner chimp is already raising the bat too all corners of the ground.
Here’s Mark Hooper. “The best example of Stokes as the thinking/versatile cricketer was the sight of him in that World Cup final, dead on his feet, doing the sums in his head after every ball working out whether to stick or twist.”
And even recalling a match between India and Bangladesh in 2016. How he had such clarity I’ll never know.
108th over: England 308-4 (Stokes 88, Pope 68) After a quiet spell for England – three runs in four overs – Pope threads Maharaj to the extra-cover boundary. Lovely shot.
107th over: England 303-4 (Stokes 88, Pope 64) “There seems to be a lot of ‘political correctness gone mad’ reaction to Rabada’s ban,” says Andrew Moore, “but I would say two things. Firstly, it didn’t look great to run up to the stumps and scream in Root’s personal space, even if it wasn’t in his face. Secondly, he hasn’t been banned just for yesterday’s incident. If I’m on 9 points and I get clocked doing 33 in a 30 surely most of the blame for losing my licence is on me?”
Yes, as the chaps on Sky said earlier, he isn’t the quickest learner, as he has been in trouble a few times before. It was provocative, I agree with that, but I think we should show a bit more empathy for players who make slight, instinctive misjudgements when elite sport is at its most intense. Most of us struggle to control our temper on social media, never mind in the heightened environment of Test cricket. But I do appreciate the alternative view. I suppose we all put different amounts of salt in the stew.
106th over: England 302-4 (Stokes 87, Pope 64) A maiden from Maharaj to Pope. South Africa have gone on the defensive, and probably feel they are playing for a draw now. This is why Stokes is so good – not only is he willing to take risks that others would not, but he has the intelligence to calculate those on each given day. He really is the most admirable cricketer.