Joe Denly scored his first century for England in their final warm-up match before the Boxing Day Test in South Africa – but concerns over the ongoing illness in camp have led to SOS calls for Craig Overton and Dom Bess.
Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer and Jack Leach have been struggling with a flu-like condition throughout the week and were told to remain at the team hotel while their colleagues travelled to Benoni to begin a three-day game against South Africa A.
With all three yet to bowl a competitive delivery since touching down in Johannesburg, and with at least five other players or staff reporting milder symptoms, England took the precautionary move of asking Somerset set pair Overton and Bess to rearrange their Christmas plans.
Both men have just returned from training camps – in Cape Town and Mumbai respectively – and will arrive on Saturday to cover the stretched seam and spin departments ahead of the series opener in Centurion.
Denly is one of the players who has been under the weather but he will be delighted to have recovered sufficiently to take the field at Willowmoore Park, where he made 103 of the tourists’ 337 for five.
The 33-year-old has passed 50 five times in 19 Test innings and although this ton will not even go on his first-class record – England having requested the game be declassified due to their depleted numbers – it was still a strong showing.
He reached his hundred in 188 deliveries, with 15 boundaries, and looked both positive and secure. The Kent man played the short balls well, pulling hard and often, and used his flourishes through the off-side sparingly but successfully.
On a day of sloppy fielding from the home side, he did not benefit from any good fortune and was run out late in the day after a call from Ollie Pope, who helped himself to a fluent 70 not out.
A very useful day with the bat 👏
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 20, 2019
Opener Rory Burns was the first to be dropped, a fingertip effort going down at slip when he had 41 of his 56 runs. Joe Root and Ben Stokes were both grassed at deep midwicket by Rudi Second but Root edged his very next delivery to slip to go for 12.
Stokes, in his first innings since becoming BBC Sports Personality of the Year, had his first life on 13 and another at fine leg on 46. In between there were a handful of powerful blows but he eventually fell to a well-judged catch from Dane Piedt for 47.
South Africa A were missing one of their Test contingent, Temba Bavuma ruled out of both this and the Boxing Day match with a hip problem, but did have all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo in their ranks.
He took each of the first two wickets to fall, pegging back Dom Sibley’s off stump after a careful 22, then seeing off Burns after lunch thanks to a superb catch from Kyle Verreyne.
England will continue to assess Broad, Archer and Leach with a view to them playing some part over the weekend, but any workload is likely to be lighter than they would like so close to a series opener.