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Proteas crushed

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Here's where the third Test was won and lost.

Picture: AP Photo/Michael Sheehan

The toss

South Africa needed their skipper to win the toss on that first day at St George’s Park. 

The sun was baking down and the pitch was flatter than the pancakes being sold at the concession stands behind the grass banks. 
But yet again Faf du Plessis lost – for the sixth successive time. 

Counterpart Joe Root did not hesitate after calling correctly, saying, “we’ll bat” and from thereon it was always going to be a hard slog. 
“If I am honest, I think losing the toss here was quite big,” Proteas coach Mark Boucher said. 

“We didn’t expect the conditions to play like that. I don’t think anyone expected it to play like that. The groundsman said it was going to do something and then it did absolutely nothing.”


The first session

Every morning England arrived at the ground seemingly better prepared for battle. 

On the first day, their openers Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley ground out 61 runs without loss to calm the early nerves. 

On the second day, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope drove home the advantage by adding 111 runs, with Stokes bringing up his ninth Test century in the process. 

For two consecutive days, South Africa has failed to make a breakthrough in the morning. 

Although there were rain interruptions on the remaining days, the contrast could not be bigger as the Proteas added just 35/1 on the third day before folding like a deck of cards on the fourth morning when they lost four wickets for just one run in a manic 30 minutes that ultimately decided the game. 

Yesterday’s four wickets were a mere formality.


Partnerships

South Africa’s batsmen are horribly out of form, and the fact that it’s the top-order is creating problems all the way through. 

The ripple effect is that South Africa are unable to put together any meaningful partnerships. 

The home side have only managed one in excess of 100 between Dean Elgar and Rassie van der Dussen at Newlands. 

Here in Port Elizabeth, it was even worse with Keshav Maharaj and Dane Paterson putting on 99 for the very last wicket. 

England, meanwhile, changed the course of the game with the 203-run stand between Stokes and Pope. 

Kagiso Rabada had just clean bowled Root and was looking to run through the remainder of the England line-up. 

But Stokes and Pope knuckled down before counter-attacking with a match-winning partnership. 

“They had one partnership of 200, and once you have you are in front of the game,” Du Plessis said after the game.


England’s younger players shine

Both teams are in transition, and Root and Du Plessis will admit to it. 

England have not won a series outright in a year – just like South Africa – and are trialling a few younger players on this tour. 

The Proteas, meanwhile, could hand out a sixth Test debut in 10 Tests at the Wanderers. 

It’s the England rookies that are outshining South Africa’s at the moment, though, with Pope showing off his class while striking his maiden Test ton. 

Sibley and Crawley may not be the flashiest opening pair in the world, but they are resolute and defiant – characteristics the Proteas yearn for in their own batting unit. 

And there’s Dom Bess, who is loving the fact that he is getting the opportunity to wear an England cap and not Somerset Second XI jumper. His five wickets in the first innings blew the Proteas away.


The Ben Stokes factor

Ahead of the last World Cup, each captain was asked to choose one player from the opposition’s line-up that they would most like in their team. 

If this had to be posed to Du Plessis now, it would be hard to imagine he would look any further than Stokes. 

England’s maverick all-rounder continues to be the fundamental difference separating the two teams at the moment. 

Although he dropped three catches in the slips to actually prove he’s human, Stokes’ impact on the Test remains immeasurable. 

His century in the first innings was pure class as it seamlessly switched from defence to attack. 

“He is such an unbelievable player. 

“He has matured in his game in the way that he has different levels,” Du Plessis said. 

“Having X-factor in your team is so dangerous because you can blow teams away like Stokes has done.”