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Morning everyone and welcome to the second day of a series that has already proved to be gripping (if also dripping). We begin today with a quiz question. What’s next in this sequence: 136, 162, 71, 106, 114?
The answer is … 0. That’s what Jonny Bairstow scored yesterday, as the purplest patch of his long Test career was rudely interrupted by a fast straight ball from Anrich Nortje. One minute you’re racking up 589 for three times out, the next you’re being escorted off the field by Daddles the duck.
Amazon’s All Or Nothing is the right title in the wrong sport. The Arsenal season covered in the latest series was neither all nor nothing – they finished fifth in the Premier League, exactly as expected – whereas almost every batter in world cricket is riding the all-or-nothing rollercoaster all the time. Directly before his 136, Bairstow made seven consecutive scores below 30. His Test average this year, when England are put in to bat, is 7.33. When England win the toss and field, it’s 121.33.
The cape Bairstow couldn’t find yesterday was being worn by Ollie Pope, who looked more like a senior player than he ever had before. He was busy but not frantic, positive but not foolhardy, carefree but not careless. He hit only four fours off 87 balls yet still managed a strike rate of 70. He resumes this morning, on 61 not out, as England’s last hope of a respectable total.
The South Africans won’t worry about Pope unless he doubles his tally. Their strike rate has been phenomenal: six wickets in 32 overs. Kagiso Rabada needs fewer balls to dismiss a batter than any bowler in history with 150 Test wickets. Marshall, Cummins, Trueman, Garner: every one a maestro, but none as good, by this yardstick, as the mighty Rabada. Yesterday he surgically removed England’s openers, then took a break and watched Nortje demolish the middle order. This morning they may well open together and have a race to a spot on the honours board.
Play starts at 10.30am BST, weather permitting, to make up some of the time lost yesterday. Do stay with us – it’s unlikely to be dull.
Play starts at 10.30am BST, to make up some of the time lost to rain. It is unlikely to be dull.