Johannesburg: Steven Finn led a persistent England bowling attack as South Africa failed to capitalise on a promising start on the first day of the third Test at the Wanderers Stadium on Thursday.
South Africa were 267 for seven at the close, a disappointing return after reaching 117 for one at the mid-afternoon drinks break.
Having negotiated what could reasonably have been expected to be the trickiest part of the day - after winning the toss and batting in cloudy conditions on a pitch with pace and bounce - wickets fell at regular intervals.
South Africa slipped to 225 for seven before Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada took them to the close with an unbeaten partnership of 42. Eight of the nine batsmen in action reached 20, with Faf du Plessis scoring 16, but Dean Elgar's 46 was the highest score. "It was maybe one or two wickets too many," said Elgar.
"But it's that kind of wicket where you can always lose a few in quick succession. It was a hard-fought session or two, so all in all we'll take the score we have. The wicket might quicken up a bit and play into our favour." Elgar said the England bowling was "spot-on" and singled out Finn as the pick of the tourists' attack.
"They threw quite a lot at us today, they didn't give us a lot of scoring opportunities and they seemed to put the ball in the right areas quite a lot. "(Finn) seems like a bowler high on confidence. He does produce some quality cricket when you're out there facing him. He definitely doesn't give you a lot of balls to score off. It is an extra challenge when you're facing a guy like Finn, he's taller and he seems to have a bit of extra gas."
England bowling coach Ottis Gibson admitted there was a slight sense of disappointment after the hosts saw out the final hour without suffering any further damage. "There was probably a little bit of frustration that we could have got more (wickets) but to have them seven down on the first day of a Test match is also quite pleasing," said Gibson, who was also impressed by Finn.
"Since he came back in the Ashes he's proved himself to be an outstanding fast bowler. We missed him in Dubai (against Pakistan) when he got that injury. When he gets that ball in his hand you can see he's a quality bowler and someone who can play a huge part for England in the coming years." Elgar's dismissal, pushing at an off-spinner from Moeen Ali to be caught behind by Jonny Bairstow, started a slide. It ended a second wicket partnership of 73 with Hashim Amla, who fell to a superb delivery from Finn shortly afterwards for 40.
The tall Finn was hostile throughout the day, taking the wickets of Amla and Faf du Plessis for a return of two for 50. Ben Stokes took two for 53, including the key wicket of new captain AB de Villiers, who looked in supreme form before getting a faint edge to an attempted pull shot after making 36. It was a collective bowling effort, however, with De Villiers the only batsman to look fully comfortable. While the bowlers exerted pressure throughout the day, several batsmen contributed to their own downfall. Four were out hooking or pulling, while Temba Bavuma was run out, responding slowly after Dane Vilas set off for a quick single.
Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock was ruled out of the South African team after injuring his right knee in an accident at home on Wednesday evening.
Vilas flew from Port Elizabeth on Thursday morning to replace De Kock, arriving at the ground shortly before the first drinks break. South Africa included a new cap, fast bowler Hardus Viljoen, 26, in a four-man pace attack with part-timer Elgar the only spin bowler in the side.
England named an unchanged team, with opening batsman Alex Hales having recovered from a stomach bug. Gibson said several players had been affected by the illness. "Some people are under the weather a bit but it's something we're not going to dwell on," he added.