Today was comfortably South Africa’s best of the tour.
It was great to see such fight from the team, firstly with the ball – continuing to take wickets even when they were under pressure – and then in getting stuck in with the bat during the final session.
The team have shown real character. And not just today, ever since going 1-0 down at Lord’s. They were beaten soundly; it was a drubbing, but Faf du Plessis has come back in as captain and everything looks a little calmer, with the team following suit. It has been a marvellous turnaround.
They got a decent first innings score of 335, but England were 143-3 at one stage in reply, going along at a rapid rate. Joe Root batted superbly, scoring at greater than a run-a-ball for his 78, but then South Africa managed to skittle them out cheaply.
Sometimes when you play so positively, you can hit a bit of a speed bump, and that proved to be the case for England. Some shots were a touch loose and they gifted a couple of wickets away.
Having said that, I thought South Africa were superb. Morne Morkel, in particular, was outstanding in leading the attack – particularly given the team is missing Kagiso Rabada, who would have been a massive player on this surface – and Keshav Maharaj also really stepped up.
Morkel hit a great length throughout and the delivery to get the vital wicket of Root was an absolute jaffa, while Maharaj picking up three wickets for just 20 runs on a ground where spinners average over 50 in the last eight or so Test matches is some achievement.
Maharaj’s main attribute is he is immensely accurate, so if the pitch offers him a little bit of something to work with, more often than not he will find the right areas.
He already has two five-wicket hauls in his nine Tests for South Africa to date, and given his success in the first innings, who’s to say he won’t add a third in the second? He has been a real find.
Duane Olivier struggled a touch, as did Chris Morris early on, but he bounced back to dismiss the tail. That’s a good boost for him ahead of the second innings.
Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla then did brilliantly well to guts it out to the close of play with South Africa 205 ahead and only one wicket down.
Ideally, they will want a lead of at least 350, 400 before England bat again. But whatever they get, they’ve got to believe that it is enough. There is enough happening out in the middle.
The ball went round corners this morning, the seamers continuing to get assistance with regard to swing. The surface is also starting to go up and down a little bit.
This is a result pitch. There is no doubt we will get one in this Test match with the game moving on so quickly – 15 wickets falling today – and hopefully it goes South Africa’s way to level the series.
Live coverage of the second Test between England and South Africa continues on Sky Sports 2 and in Ultra HD on Sky Q from 10am on Sunday.