|Third Test, Port Elizabeth, (day two of five):|
|England 499-9 declared: Pope 135*, Stokes 120; Maharaj 5-180|
|South Africa 60-2: Bess 2-12|
|England lead by 439 runs|
Ollie Pope struck his first of what will surely be many Test centuries and Ben Stokes cracked a hundred of his own to put England in a dominant position on day two of the third Test against South Africa in Port Elizabeth.
Pope dazzled for 135 not out, at 22 years and 15 days becoming the youngest player to make a maiden Test hundred for England since Alastair Cook in 2006.
Stokes continued his stellar form for 120 to take the tourists to 499-9 declared – the first time England have made more than 400 batting first for over two years.
The fifth-wicket pair extended their overnight partnership to 203, crushing the spirit of the South African attack.
Sam Curran and Mark Wood took advantage, Curran adding a breezy 44 and Wood swinging his way to 42 from only 23 deliveries, including five sixes.
After England declared, off-spinner Dom Bess exploited the turn on offer, removing both Pieter Malan and Zubayr Hamza to leave the Proteas 60-2, 439 behind.
Bad light and rain closed in with eight overs remaining, denying England the chance to make further inroads, but they still have a golden opportunity to go 2-1 up with one Test to play.
Even with the surface remaining good for batting, England have the advantage of scoreboard pressure and the weapon of Wood, who bowled a fiery spell in excess of 90mph in his first Test for 11 months.
Riotous days puts England in charge
If day one of this match was even, fluctuating and intriguing, day two was an England romp towards complete control.
On Thursday, runscoring seemed tricky on a sleepy pitch, perhaps because the South Africa bowlers nagged and home captain Faf du Plessis was canny.
On Friday, England rattled along at almost 4.5 runs an over. Maybe it was because the surface had gained some pace, or because South Africa were lacklustre. Chiefly, it was because of the brilliance of Pope and Stokes.
They built on the platform laid on the first evening, when England closed on 224-4 and their stand stood at 76. In the morning, Stokes blazed his way to three figures. Later, after Pope inched his way to the maiden ton, he unfurled some outrageous strokes.
When Kagiso Rabada – banned for the final Test – thought he had Wood caught, England declared. As replays revealed Rabada had overstepped, England skipper Joe Root changed his mind and England continued to add 23 more runs. The farce summed up South Africa’s day.
After such a chastening time in the field, it is to the credit of openers Malan and Dean Elgar that they battled to add 50 for the first wicket, only for Bess to strike in the gathering gloom.
First Malan chipped a catch back to the bowler, then Hamza inside-edged to Pope at short leg.
Pope fulfils promise
Even if Pope’s first attempt at Test cricket, two matches against India in 2018, did not yield success, the volume of runs he scored for Surrey suggested he was well equipped to perform at the highest level.
His classy strokeplay draws comparisons with former England batsman Ian Bell, but Pope also has the tricks of a player schooled in the T20 era.
Resuming on 39, he was initially in Stokes’ slipstream, albeit still playing drives and cuts square on the off side. Later, when Curran was scoring freely, Pope’s progression towards a hundred was painstaking.
He overturned being given lbw to Dane Paterson on 74 and narrowly avoided being run out on 76, when Rabada missed with a shy at the stumps.
When Pope clipped Anrich Nortje through mid-wicket for four, it brought a first hundred in his sixth Test and sparked some spectacular ramping, scooping and reverse-scooping of the fast bowlers.
By the time England declared, Pope’s first-class average stood 61.14, a mark bettered by only nine other men in the history of the game.
Superb Stokes does it again
The list of Stokes’ achievements currently seems to growing every time he takes the field. The World Cup and Headingley in 2019, the International Cricket Council’s player of the year, already inspiring England to victory in Cape Town in 2020.
On Thursday evening he was happy to leave the entertainment to Pope but on Friday, beginning on 38, he climbed into the South Africa bowling.
Stokes peppered the mid-wicket boundary, either pulling the fast bowlers or sweeping spinner Keshav Maharaj – one of the two sixes off the left-armer went out of the ground.
On reaching three figures, Stokes celebrated with a hand gesture for his father Ged, who remains in a Johannesburg hospital after being taken ill before Christmas.
After lunch, South Africa found a way to frustrate Stokes, who drove to point to give Paterson his first Test wicket.
By that time, he had already become the second England player, after Ian Botham, to do the double of 4,000 Test runs and 100 wickets.
‘England are way ahead of the game’
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “England are way ahead of the game. South Africa are in trouble. As long as there isn’t too much rain over the next three days, it is going to be cooler, there will be cloud around and there will be much more friendly bowling conditions.”
Ex-England batsman Vikram Solanki on The Cricket Social: “Ollie Pope makes good decisions. He reflects on mistakes, he’s honest with himself and he works very hard on his game. He gleans any bit of experience from any experienced players – and uses that as a bank of knowledge.”
Former England pace bowler Graham Onions: “I don’t think Faf du Plessis had a particularly great day. But if bowlers don’t execute their plans, there’s not much you can do. It has almost been role reversal for Joe Root.”
Article courtesy of BBC Sport