Proteas on ropes at Wanderers

England player Ben Stokes is congratulated after taking the catch to dismiss Rassie van der Dussen off the bowling of Sam Curran during Day Two of the Fourth Test between South Africa and England at Wanderers on January 25, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
England player Ben Stokes is congratulated after taking the catch to dismiss Rassie van der Dussen off the bowling of Sam Curran during Day Two of the Fourth Test between South Africa and England at Wanderers on January 25, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Stu Forster/Getty Images

South Africa painfully and inexorably nudged towards a series defeat against England here on Saturday.

They have a mountain to climb to save this Test‚ never mind winning it to level the series at two-all.

After Anrich Nortje helped drag them back into the contest with his maiden five-wicket haul‚ first the home team’s bowlers‚ and then their top order‚ set them on a path which by stumps on day two‚ far removed from redemption.

They finished the day on 88 for six‚ still well in arrears of England psychologically challenging 400 all out.

They lost Pieter Malan (15)‚ Rassie van der Dussen (0) and Dean Elgar (26) by the time they laboured to 50 off 159 balls.

The number of deliveries would not ordinarily matter but such was the mental hole they had dug themselves in the field it paralysed their batting.

Malan and Elgar set about the reply with great caution.

Malan nicked his 63rd delivery to hand Mark Wood the initial breakthrough‚ before Van der Dussen overcompensated for movement into his pad to be caught by Ben Stokes in the slip cordon for a duck off Sam Curran.

Stokes was in the action again when Elgar‚ after a 64-ball stay‚ failed to control a cut and departed meekly for 24.

Under fire captain Faf du Plessis came to crease feeling both the pressure of the scoreboard‚ but especially his most recent entries in the SA scorebook.

His stay at the crease under glorious late afternoon sun looked that of a man craving the anonymity of the shadows.

He had scored three by the time Chris Woakes trapped him leg before facing his 29th delivery.

It went down to umpire’s call upon review but there can be no denying the doubts that have crept into Du Plessis’s batting.

His Test career is in the balance and his departure here at 17.29 necessitated an especially long walk back to the dressing room‚ into the setting sun.

It brought Temba Bavuma to the crease and he too carries an inordinate amount of weight‚ albeit not all of his own doing.

By the time he joined Quinton de Kock‚ the Gwijo Squad was in full voice in the Unity Stand but they fell silent as the Barmy Army cleared their throats.

Bavuma‚ who made a much anticipated return to the side‚ did his cause few favours when he nicked Woakes to Stokes for six.

Earlier‚ England had contrasting fortunes with the bat.

They started well‚ collapsed‚ before finishing with a flourish.

Joe Root and the ever improving Ollie Pope negotiated the initial period after a delayed start but first the former and then the latter fell for 56 and 59 respectively.

Sam Curran was out first ball before Jos Buttler‚ in most unedifying fashion advanced down the wicket trying to flat bat Philander back over his head.

Instead he skied the ball and although there was initial uncertainty about who should claim it‚ it finally fell to Elgar to pouch an awkward catch.

Philander‚ who was the recipient of a fiery verbal volley from Buttler at Newlands‚ was seen mouthing something to the departing batsman and it is unlikely it was advice about whether the hot shower tap was to the left or right.

At 269 for seven‚ the home side had a chance restricting England to a manageable total but their tail stung like scorpion thanks to some lusty blows from Stuart Broad (43)‚ Mark Wood (35 not out) and Woakes (32).

Broad and Wood’s 82-run 10th wicket stand gave them ownership of the highest Test partnership for that wicket at this ground.

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