Steve Finn made a compelling case for Test match selection with an impressive afternoon spell on the first day of the three-day match between England and South Africa A at the Maritzburg Oval on Sunday. For a player who was originally ruled out of the start of the England tour with an injury picked up in England’s preceding tour against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates he has indeed made a startling recovery. His afternoon spell of 8-1-24-3 ripped the heart out of the South African middle order with the three wickets falling in the space of nine balls which included a hat trick chance when he dismissed Omphile Ramela and Khaya Zondo with successive deliveries.
On a pitch that was slow but well grassed and gave the seamers assistance throughout the day Finn and Stuart Broad bowled with excellent discipline and control. With Finn also getting rid of Quinton De Kock in his opening spell he finished with figures of 4/34 in 12 overs to send the local side crashing to 136 all out in 56 overs two overs after the tea interval. With England fielding their Test side with the exception of Jimmy Anderson, Finn may have done enough to get the third seamer spot in the chosen XI ahead of Mark Footitt who is also playing in this game and Chris Woakes who isn’t.
Ben Stokes confirmed once again that he is ready for Test selection and he cleaned up the tail taking 3/25 in 11. Six of the South African batsmen fell to catches behind the stumps. On a pitch that required patience and a willingness to work really hard for his runs, Stephen Cook stood out head and shoulders above his South African compatriots, carrying his bat for 53 off 170 balls with four fours.
These have always been the hallmarks of Cook’s game and he knows where his off-stump is better than most. The only partnership of any note was the 51 for the fourth wicket in 26 overs between Cook and Ramela. In the process Cook recorded his 11 000th first-class run.
When England batted, they also had one or two uneasy moments but the South African attack did not have the accuracy of their counterparts and too many deliveries did not require a response. They must have been delighted for Alastair Cook and Alex Hales to finish the day unbeaten on 64/0.