Anderson and England quick off the mark in Centurion

History maker James Anderson picked up a wicket with the first ball ball of the Boxing Day Test, as England reduced South Africa to 79 for three at lunch on day one.

England’s team sheet at SuperSport in Centurion contained good and bad news – Ben Stokes taking the field with his father Ged remaining in a stable but serious condition in a Johnnesburg hospital, but Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes and Jack Leach all absent through illness.

The tourists were still able to field a strong five-man pace attack and Root chose to bowl first, nodding to the light covering of grass on the wicket.

Things could hardly have started better, Anderson marking the occasion of his 150th Test cap with instant success. The 37-year-old is just the ninth player in history to reach the milestone, the second Englishman after Sir Alastair Cook and the first specialist fast bowler.

The wicket of Dean Elgar will not go down as one of his best, a gently-paced leg-side delivery which the opener feathered into Jos Buttler’s gloves, but it was just the start his side needed.

Anderson has been out for the last five months following a calf injury suffered on the first morning of the Ashes and with Stuart Broad only just recovered from the same sickness bug affecting the camp, the new ball spell did not quite deliver on expectations.

South Africa England Cricket
South Africa England Cricket

Instead, it fell to all-rounder Sam Curran to grab England’s second. Aiden Markram treated Curran’s entry into the attack dismissively, carving his first ball for four – but the response was quick and effective.

First an outside edge fell just in front of Root at first slip and then Markram turned the next ball obligingly to Jonny Bairstow at midwicket. At 32 for two, England were on the board with a pair of soft dismissals.

Jofra Archer, taken off new ball duty to accommodate old-stagers Anderson and Broad, would have added the scalp of Faf du Plessis had England gambled on a third slip but instead the edge galloped for four.

Zubayr Hamza (39) was comfortably the most assured batsman on show, settling well and picking his moments of aggression wisely until erring late in the session. Tempted outside off stump by the returning Broad, he prodded away from his body and fed Stokes a low chance at second slip.