South Africa v England: Yorkshire’s Joe Root helps steer England into commanding position

Yorkshire's Joe Root, plays a bouncer off South Africa's bowler Morne Morkel's as England take control on the third day in Durban. AP/Themba Hadebe
Yorkshire's Joe Root, plays a bouncer off South Africa's bowler Morne Morkel's as England take control on the third day in Durban. AP/Themba Hadebe
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England moved into a match-winning position in the first Test against a South Africa side that endured a calamitous third day in Durban.

The hosts endured a batting collapse, dropped three straightforward catches, lost star bowler Dale Steyn to a shoulder injury and left themselves with a mountain to climb to salvage the series opener.

It remains to be seen, meanwhile, what explanation the umpires give for changing the ball following a lengthy discussion with captain Hashim Amla in the 26th over.

England finished the day 261 in front on 172 -3, a handsome lead on a wearing and slow-scoring Kingsmead pitch.

Moeen Ali took three wickets in the morning to finish with 4-69 and Joe Root worked hard for 60 not out to advance the cause in either innings, but this was a day of South African abdication.

AB De Villiers - reluctantly wearing the wicketkeeping gloves again - dropped Root on six and Nick Compton on 45, while Dean Elgar took some of the gloss off a hard-fought century by grassing Compton on 11 and failing to get a decent hand on a tough caught and bowled chance.

The judgement over Steyn was highly questionable too.

He left the field with a right shoulder strain midway through his fourth over and despite being booked in for a scan, returned to bowl the 21st.

This time he lasted only three balls before pulling up again and heading to hospital.

South Africa are not the world’s No 1side by chance, but this was a day that saw their performance fall well below standards on all fronts.

England’s morning session went almost exactly to plan, dismissing South Africa for 214 with six wickets tumbling for just 77 runs

Broad, for the second day in a row, needed just two deliveries to take a wicket.

The ball kept a touch low outside off stump but that did not entirely account for a non-committal jab that cannoned back into Temba Bavuma’s leg stump.

Elgar, 67 not out overnight, badly needed someone to stick with him but neither JP Duminy nor Kyle Abbott were able.

Moeen removed both in classical off-spinner’s fashion, the left-handed Duminy guiding to slip and Abbott lobbing one to short-leg via bat and pad.

Steyn batted with greater purpose, allowing Elgar to overtake Compton’s 85 as the highest score of the match then bring up a fourth Test hundred with a scampered three.

With the change of ball two overs away Steyn lost his cool against Moeen, sending up a steepling catch that Chris Woakes finally controlled at the third attempt.

Finn then wrapped things up by seeing off Dane Piedt and Morkel in his first over with the new ball, leaving Elgar to carry his bat for 118 not out.

An 89-run first-innings lead looked a good one for England, and their sense of comfort only increased when Steyn pulled up in the seventh over.

The 32-year-old has just come back from three Tests out with a groin problem and the sight of their premier bowler struggling again was a tough one to take for the home fans.

In his absence there was an early look at the spinner, Piedt, and an early success too.

Alastair Cook did not reprise his first-innings duck but he managed only seven before Piedt had him lbw.

Scoring quickly was neither easy nor necessary given the match situation but Hales happily slog-swept Piedt for six, making his first boundary in Tests a maximum.

A second flourish proved less successful, picking out Abbott with a hubristic aerial stroke having reached 26.

By now Steyn had returned to the field but, with scans booked for later in the day it was still a huge surprise to see him return to his mark for the 21st over.

He charged in manfully, almost persuading Compton to play on with his second ball, but after a third he again walked off with the physio.

Things went from bad to worse before tea, Morkel having both batsmen dropped from successive overs.

Both should have been straightforward catches but Compton was grassed by Elgar at second slip before De Villiers appeared to lose sight of a glove behind from Root.

Compton’s second life came when De Villiers parried a catchable nick to the boundary, but he was gone next ball when the wicketkeeper finally clung on.

Root stood firm to see stumps with James Taylor (24no) and passed 50 for the 13th time in 26 innings this year, equalling the Test record.

Kyle Bartley

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