Ben Stokes of England during day 1 of the 3rd Test match between SA and England at St Georges Park on January 16 2020 in Port Elizabeth. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/ ASHLEY VLOTMAN
Ben Stokes of England during day 1 of the 3rd Test match between SA and England at St Georges Park on January 16 2020 in Port Elizabeth. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/ ASHLEY VLOTMAN

Port Elizabeth — Claiming Ben Stokes’s wicket will be the top priority for SA as they look to make an impact on day two of the third Test against England at St George’s Park on Friday.

It was a slow day of cricket for most of the opening day as England battled their way to 224/4. That effort‚ at a run rate of 2.5 per over‚ came on a surface where runs proved a scarce commodity.

The predicted easterly breeze‚ the one that locals will tell you brings the wickets‚ failed to pitch and that made it hard for batsmen and bowlers to garner success.

Stokes (38) and Ollie Pope (39) survived the new ball to end as the not-out batsmen overnight.

Faf du Plessis’s South Africans will know that nipping out Stokes as early as possible will be of key importance lest they run the risk of him taking head coach Mark Boucher’s “wounded buffalo” by the horns.

That lack of wicket-taking opportunities during the opening session required some innovation, and Du Plessis came up with a plan. The first two wickets fell to an unconventional field placing. Short backward square-leg‚ or leg gully‚ is not a position every captain looks to employ.

But Du Plessis identified an opportunity and his quicks Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortjé targeted back-of-length in the direction of the thigh pad and it worked on both occasions.

First‚ and just after lunch‚ Dom Sibley turned a delivery from Rabada to Dean Elgar‚ who snaffled a good catch. Sibley made 36 and contributed to a 70-run stand for the first wicket with Zak Crawley.

Next man down Crawley was a near carbon copy dismissal to Sibley’s but this time it was off Nortjé, with Rassie van der Dussen taking a blinding catch diving low to his right. Crawley was workmanlike for his 44, which came off 137 deliveries and included nine fours.

England took the tea break on 117/2 off 58 overs with Joe Denly (25) and Joe Root (27) looking to continue the patience game. But it was a case of them getting in and then getting out.

Denly’s was a strange dismissal in that only wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock appealed for a leg before decision off Keshav Maharaj. The appeal was turned down, but De Kock convinced his skipper to review. Television revealed the ball had kissed the pad before hitting the middle of Denly’s bat and the decision was overturned.

Rabada‚ who took 11 wickets against the Aussies at St George’s Park two years ago‚ struck another blow for the Proteas‚ knocking over England captain Root. Root was desperately unlucky‚ as the delivery kept a touch low and he was trapped on the crease as the ball crashed into his wicket.

There were raised eyebrows when Du Plessis‚ after losing his sixth toss in a row‚ opened the bowling with debutant Dane Paterson ahead of Rabada or Nortjé. With Vernon Philander operating from the other end‚ a lack of pace allowed the English opening pair to settle in.

With not much happening in terms of wickets‚ Maharaj was brought into the attack before lunch. The leftarm spinner ended up bowling the lion’s share of the overs. He sent down 30 consecutive overs until the new ball was taken in the late afternoon.

He ended the day with 1/55 in 32 overs and is likely to bowl considerably more on Friday.