Root bags career-best figures to put England on brink of innings victory
England advanced towards an innings victory in the third Test against South Africa as their pacemen sent stumps flying and Joe Root played an unlikely starring role with the ball.
The tourists began day four in Port Elizabeth with a blitz of four wickets for just one run as they skittled the Proteas for 209, then reduced them to 102 for six after enforcing a rare overseas follow-on.
With a lead of 188, only further rain can realistically prevent England taking a 2-1 series lead to Johannesburg, with a three-hour delay preventing them from wrapping things up well ahead of time.
England made the best of every moment they had either side of that downpour, with seamers Stuart Broad, Sam Curran and Mark Wood all toppling the timbers to hammer home the scoreboard pressure created by their first-innings 499.
Root then elbowed his way into the tale, banking career-best figures of four for 31 as he turned in a spell worthy of a Test-class off-spinner.
Play resumed at St George’s Park with the hosts on 208 for six – needing 92 to make England bat again. Overnight it had looked a tight proposition but they never came close to making a fight of it, rolled in just 28 deliveries.
England celebrated wickets in the each of the first three overs as off, middle and leg stump all came out of the ground. Broad set the tone with a beauty, burrowing through Vernon Philander’s gate as he seamed the fifth ball of the morning prodigiously off the pitch.
Curran repeated the trick from the Duck Pond End, going full and castling Quinton de Kock, who had failed to add to his overnight score of 63.
Keshav Maharaj joined the procession when he aimed a reckless swipe at Broad, dragging on messily, before Kagiso Rabada moved the total along for the first time with a single.
That was as good as it got, with Rabada chipping lazily to Wood at mid-off, Broad having bagged three for nought in 2.4 overs. Root accepted the chance to put the careworn hosts back in again, enforcing the follow-on for just the second time in his captaincy. England had not done so overseas since Wellington in 2013.
Rain forced them off between 11am and 2.10pm, but Wood picked up the baton when the skies cleared. After a series of pacy bumpers he went full to Dean Elgar, taking a tiny nick and rearranging the stumps for the fourth time. Number three Zubayr Hamza was next up and appeared spooked by Wood’s speed.
Riddled with doubt and evasive at the crease he shuffled across as the ball reared towards his hip and feathered through to Jos Buttler. The next four wickets all fell to Root, who improbably became his side’s primary threat in the evening gloom.
Generating good turn and creating pressure with a more persistent line than he usually musters, he outbowled primary spinner and day three hero Dom Bess. He struck first just before the tea break, Pieter Malan’s careful 79-ball stay ending with an innocuous forward press and Root’s loud lbw shout upheld.
Buoyed by his success, he made new batsman Rassie van der Dussen squirm, penning him in, seeing one lbw decision overturned and sending him back when Ollie Pope held a brilliant one-handed catch at short-leg.
That brought De Kock back to the crease for the second time and he fell to a dismal lapse of judgement, lavishly carving Root off the back foot and allowing Wood the chance to hold on high above his head at backward point.
That left Faf du Plessis as his side’s last best hope but the home captain’s powers of durability appear to be on the wane. He stuck around for nearly two-and-a-half hours, hitting six fours and one maximum for 36, but so much more was needed.
He was Root’s fourth and final victim of the day, providing Pope’s fifth close catch of the match after a thick edge into his front pad. Oddly, he called for DRS with no chance of a reprieve.
Wood twice came close to adding Philander before the close, Dom Sibley nearly holding a stunner and Ben Stokes adding to his hat-trick of drops on day three when a pull burst through his hands.