Stuart Broad felt England could have been in an even better position after day two of the first Test against South Africa, despite his three wickets edging the tourists ahead in Durban.
Broad bowled magnificently in James Anderson’s absence, taking the wickets of key men Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers on his way to figures of three for 16 in ten overs.
The Proteas closed on 137 for four – a healthy deficit of 166 – but there were chances that went begging too. Ben Stokes would have had Dean Elgar (67no) lbw had England reviewed Aleem Dar’s not out decision and the Durham all-rounder also looked to have caught De Villiers long before his eventual dismissal. On that occasion on-field uncertainty and the familiar problems with slow-motion replays went against the fielding side. Jonny Bairstow also dropped Amla, though the home captain could not cash in.
“For sure, we left a couple of wickets out there,” said Broad. “That’s something we’re still trying to work on as a team...not having to take 25 wickets to win a Test match, taking all our chances. The reviews were all our fault really. We thought Elgar hit the ball on the lbw, which is why we didn’t call for the review, but people make mistakes. The encouraging thing as a bowling group is we’re creating those chances.”
Broad commanded the spotlight on an incident-packed day. His second ball had Van Zyl caught in the headlights, the opener withdrawing the bat and watching as off stump was flattened. Four balls later Broad went up for a caught behind against Amla, but Alastair Cook did not seem fully convinced and declined to review Dar’s not out decision. Although there is no infra-red technology in the series, replays seemed to suggest a tiny edge.
Amla was offered another life moments later. This time Chris Woakes drew the nick only for wicketkeeper Bairstow to put down the catch, diving one-handed to his right. It all felt terribly ominous until Amla ran out of luck at the third attempt, Broad producing a beauty that was asking to be nicked on the back foot.
De Villiers might also have gone cheaply, Steven Finn locating the edge and Stokes gathering at gully, but a familiar sequence of events unfolded. Dar referred the decision to third umpire Bruce Oxenford, whose slow motion replays served only to cloud the issue and create doubt before the batsman was reprieved.
De Villiers set about cashing in, putting on 86 with Elgar. But Broad refused to let the game slide, unsettling De Villiers with a frustrating line outside off stump then drawing the error with a perfectly-pitched leg-cutter.
Elgar brought up the first half-century of the innings with a pick-up six off Moeen Ali. But the game had another curious twist up its sleeve. Faf du Plessis danced down the pitch and looked a certainty to be stumped. Instead, the ball brushed the off bail so gently there was a moment of confusion before the batsman’s fate was confirmed.
It should have been 117 for five soon after but, incredibly, another wicket went begging due to an unused review. This time Stokes rapped Elgar, on 58, on the knee-roll and went up for lbw. He failed to convince either Dar or Cook, whose reticence to review again proved costly.
English hopes of posting at least 400 had earlier evaporated in a three-hour morning session that saw them stumble from their overnight 179 for four. Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn each finished with four wickets, the former dismissing Stokes, Nick Compton, Moeen and Woakes to claim the pre-lunch momentum.
Compton, 63no overnight, had batted with trademark grit in pursuit of a century in the city of his birth, eking out seven runs in the first hour. But he had to settle for 85, feathering a Morkel bumper behind after almost six-and-a-half hours in the middle. Morkel then made it three wickets in six deliveries, dismissing Moeen and Woakes for back-to-back ducks.
Kyle Abbott ended Bairstow’s stay for 41 before England nudged past 300 courtesy of a 36-run last-wicket stand between Broad and Finn.