South Africa square series in style
South Africa cut short Joe Root's honeymoon as England captain with an emphatic 340-run win in the second test on Monday, leveling the four-match series and shifting the pressure onto the home team and its rookie skipper.
South Africa needed little more than 40 overs to take all 10 wickets on Day 4 as England succumbed at Trent Bridge, all out for 133 in its second innings facing an almost insurmountable target of 474.
England only just scraped past 200 in its first innings to go with that second-innings collapse, while South Africa made 335 and 343-9 declared.
From the highs of his first test in charge, when England won by 211 runs at Lord's and he made a magnificent 190, Root now has to muster his men for the two remaining tests with doubts growing over the makeup of the top three batsmen, a crucial part of the team.
Opener Keaton Jennings and Gary Ballance, Root's Yorkshire teammate and reportedly his choice to bat at No 3, are yet to make significant scores in this series and South Africa's quicks exploited that area especially at Trent Bridge.
England was 3-2 in the first innings and 28-2 in the second, and never got going with the bat.
"No, I don't think it (the top three) is a concern. They just need some runs and to spend some time out in the middle," Root said. "I'm sure if they get the opportunity to do that in the next game they will go on and make big scores.
"We'll sit down with selection and make sure we're happy with what we have going into the next one."
England has time to ponder the problem, with the third test at the Oval starting in 10 days.
The second test at Nottingham was a tale of two captains: While Root learned how quickly things can go wrong as a captain in test cricket, Faf du Plessis' return to lead South Africa provided an immediate lift for the tourists after missing the Lord's defeat for the birth of his first child.
Du Plessis led impressively — tactically and with a valuable innings of 63 in the second innings — to give South Africa momentum heading into the second half of the series.
"Faf brings a sense of calmness and his intellect on the field, there's not many people who can compare," South Africa spin bowler Keshav Maharaj said.
South Africa's players said they were prepared for a two-day scrap to win the test. In the end, England didn't last two sessions on the fourth day.
In the first session of the day, Joe Root had his off stump knocked out the ground as England lost four wickets and slid toward defeat on Day 4 itself.
England captain Root was bowled by Chris Morris for eight — the wicket South Africa really wanted — to leave England 79-4 at lunch and still 395 runs off its imposing target of 474.
Morris also removed Alastair Cook soon before lunch and Vernon Philander claimed two early scalps for South Africa, putting the tourists six wickets away from a series-leveling victory at Trent Bridge.
England's openers survived four nervy overs on Sunday night but couldn't see out the first two overs on the fourth day, with Keaton Jennings (3) bowled by Philander to put South Africa on top from the beginning of the session.
Morris took the two most important wickets for South Africa with contrasting deliveries.
His swinging yorker beat Root and took out the in-form England skipper's off stump.
Six overs later, Morris produced a bouncer that surprised Cook and England's all-time leading test run-scorer gloved a catch down the legside to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
Chris Morris took two key wickets for South Africa before lunch, knocking over Root's off stump and then bouncing out former skipper Alastair Cook, who top-scored with 42. At 79-4 at lunch, England collapsed in an hour after the break, losing its last five wickets for 11 runs.
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