TELFORD VICE at The Oval
WHERE have you gone, Vernon Philander? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Perhaps not a nation, but at least a team who will shamble into the third day of this test on Saturday 227 runs behind with, theoretically, two wickets standing.
To hospital was where Philander went on Friday after what was spawned on Thursday morning as a common or restaurant stomach bug morphed into something nastier.
It meant he was able to bowl only 17 overs — and just five of them on Friday — in England’s first innings, which grew to 353 before South Africa were able to stamp it out. And that he was unable to bat in South Africa’s reply of 126/8.
Philander was South Africa’s most threatening bowler on Thursday and the two half-centuries he scored in his previous three innings told of a useful vein of batting form and invited not entirely unserious comparisons with Jacques Kallis from no less than Faf du Plessis.
So for Philander, the leader of South Africa’s attack, to be removed from the equation in conditions bespoke for his bowling was a cruel blow.
It’s difficult to say how much his fully fit presence would have changed the game, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt the visitors’ hopes.
Instead the stars were only English: Ben Stokes, who blazed a furious 112, and debutant Toby Roland-Jones, who swung the ball around corners to take 4/39.
The home side resumed on 171/4, and in the sixth over of the morning Morne Morkel trapped Alastair Cook in front for 88 with a delivery that would have hit the top of leg stump.
It ended a steadying innings of 200 balls and 10 fours, and put paid to a stand of 63 Cook shared with Stokes.
Jonny Bairstow joined Stokes to add 75 for the sixth wicket before Kagiso Rabada, armed with the new ball, induced a prod from Bairstow and an edge to Faf du Plessis at second slip.
England were dismissed an hour into the second session when Stokes skied Morkel to long-off.
Stokes raced from 91 to 109 in three consecutive deliveries from Keshav Maharaj that he heaved over the on-side for six.
But he might have been dismissed with the first of them, which was caught by Du Plessis — who failed to stop himself from falling onto the boundary after securing the ball.
Stokes’ 112 came off 153 balls and included nine fours and four sixes, and Morkel and Rabada took three wickets each.
South Africa’s top four of Dean Elgar, Heino Kuhn, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock were all dismissed before the end of the 17th over.
And all by Roland-Jones: two with catches behind the wicket, another in the gully and a leg-before. He claimed those scalps in 24 deliveries for 15 runs.
Could it get worse than 47/4? It did.
James Anderson trapped Du Plessis in front for a single and hung onto a hard-hit return catch from Chris Morris for a couple.
When Stokes had Maharaj snaffled at first slip for five, South Africa were 61/7.
But Temba Bavuma stood as tall as Rabada in their stand of 53, which helped South Africa avert being bowled out in double figures for only the fifth time in the 242 tests they have played since readmission.
You have to wonder what Graeme Pollock thinks of that effort, all things considered.
Bavuma was still there at stumps, 34 not out and going nowhere slowly.
That’s a decent effort from a tough little bugger of a batsman, who was ably supported by Morne Morkel, who faced eight balls for his two not out.
Importantly, that means Philander will have the chance to bat on Saturday.