Unlike the farce going on in Melbourne, this is turning into a spicy meatball of a test match. England probably have their noses in front, especially as the Cricket Boks will have to bat last. The locals reckon this pitch is drying out and could get a little uneven on days four and five. We might even see some turn for Mo.
It was a day of mixed emotions for England supporters: relief, frustration, joy and anger. Relief because 303 was a good total after being reduced to 49-3; frustration because 303 was a poor total after being 196-4; joy because our bowlers reduced the Cricket Boks to 14-2; and anger because AB de Villiers was blatantly caught in the gully by Ben Stokes but given not out by a gutless third umpire. Had the right decision been made, England would have been in an absolutely fantastic position.
As we expected before the series, the bowlers are dominating this contest. Compton made a dogged 85 and probably deserved his ton – is he Jonathan Trott mark two? – but our middle-order only teased rather than making any substantial scores. Jonny Bairstow was the only one to reach 40. He’s a useful man to have coming in at seven. Moeen and Chris Woakes went early and Stokes rather threw his wicket away.
England’s 303 wasn’t quite what either captain had in mind at the start of day one but it set up an interesting game. Stuart Broad soon made it look like a more than useful total. His opening spell was world class. His aggression and relentless accuracy soon accounted for van Zyn and he made Amla look like a novice. Only Dean Elgar, who looks relatively organised, weathered the storm.
Poor Amla is really out of form. He looks unbalanced and his foot movement looks slow and indecisive. In fact, he looks very much like the player who made his debut against England all those years ago. He was a bit of a walking wicket back then. England need to keep his slump going for as long as possible.
The key moment of the day, as I alluded to earlier, was the non-dismissal of de Villiers (who went on to make 49). I know that catches aren’t always given on replay, and this is a recurring problem, but you do see them given when third umpires understand the technology and have the courage of their convictions. This one so clearly carried cleanly to Stokes that I really don’t understand the thought process.
Apologists for the third umpire argued on social media that Stokes himself wasn’t sure therefore there must have been some doubt. The truth is that fielders never know for sure. The likes of Steve Smith and Ryan Harris have admitted as much. Stokes basically did what all professionals should do: he claimed the catch, said he thought he’d caught it, but said he couldn’t be 100% sure.
In circumstances like this, the onus is on the third umpire to make the right decision. He has the best view and the benefit of several slow motion replays. The fielders and the on-field umpires can only go on instinct. What a shame that the third umpire was either too timid or too inexperienced to get a basic decision correct.
It wasn’t one of those 50:50 situations. It was out. End of.