Having won the first Test against South Africa comprehensively, England went into the New Year Test at Cape Town with their noses ahead. The Proteas are known to fight back hard from tough situations, and nothing different was expected of them at Newlands. South Africa did show glimpses of competitiveness on the opening day, especially after England had gotten off to an impressive start. But, the day ended with England racing ahead to 317 for 5. It was thanks to a brilliant counter-attacking innings from Ben Stokes that the visitors managed to stuff out the resistance from South Africa on day one.
The Proteas and the Englishmen fought tooth and nail for the first couple of days at Durban, and after the first two sessions at Cape Town, it seemed that the first day would also be heading the same way. But, an exhibition of ultra-aggressive batting changed the scenario completely. When Stokes walked into the crease, the match was evenly balanced at 167 for 4. But, when Joe Root was dismissed exactly for 50, South Africa again inched slightly ahead, with the score reading 223 for 5. But, Stokes ended up smashing an unbeaten 74 from 93 balls with 11 fours and a six to turn the tide.
South Africa had their moments on the day, but the lack of experience and effectiveness on the day came to the fore. They clearly missed the pace of their strike bowler Dale Steyn, who was ruled out with injury. Morne Morkel again bowled his heart out, but he was unlucky again as he managed only a solitary wicket despite his best efforts. The Proteas have often struggled when Morkel doesn't have Steyn's support at the other end. The hosts sprung a surprise by handing a debut to Chris Morris, and to add to it, he was also given a chance to open the bowling. It was a move than was destined to backfire since Morris is more of a limited overs specialist.
On a day when South Africa struggled with the ball, left-arm seamer Kagiso Rabada made the most impact with his presence. His three wickets were clearly the high points of the day for the South Africans. Rabada struggled somewhat in India in the Tests under conditions that were not suitable to his style of bowling. But, at Cape Town, he was clearly more at home. Having said that, Rabada needs to work on keeping things tighter for he conceded more runs than he should ideally have. South Africa also ended up being a bowler short with Stiaan van Zyl and Dean Elgar having to chip in with overs.
England definitely would be pleased with how the opening day at Newlands panned out. Stokes and Johnny Bairstow (39 not out) would be keen to continue from where they left off on day one. At the same time, England would also be disappointed with how their batsmen departed after getting good scores. Alex Hales would he pleased with his maiden fifty although he never looked in complete control. Nick Compton batted well before departing short of a fifty while Root fell immediately after crossing one. The visitors would be pleased that Stokes and Bairstow featured in a stand that could prove to be rather crucial.
-- By A Cricket Analyst