England are firmly up against it in the second Investec Test against South Africa after a disappointing first innings performance with the bat on day two at Trent Bridge.
Responding to the tourists’ 335 all out, captain Joe Root played superbly for his 78 from 76 balls and Jonny Bairstow also made 45 in a fourth-wicket partnership worth 57 that helped England to a healthy enough position of 143-3.
But once Root, who hit 12 fours, fell in edging a drive behind to Quinton de Kock off Morne Morkel, it began a collapse that saw the final seven wickets fall for 62 runs and the hosts 205 all out.
Spinner Keshav Maharaj took 3-21 and Chris Morris 3-38, while Morkel and Vernon Philander claimed two wickets each as a handful of England batsmen may reflect ruefully on their shot selection.
It gave South Africa a first innings lead of 130 and, though James Anderson soon removed Heino Kuhn in the Proteas’ second innings, Dean Elgar, who made 38 not out, and Hashim Amla, 23 not out, played purposefully to advance their team to 75-1 at the close, a lead of 205.
Under cloudy skies, it had started well for England as South Africa added just 26 to their overnight score of 309 to be all out for 335 in just 6.2 overs, principally thanks to Anderson’s seventh five-wicket haul in Test cricket at Trent Bridge.
The Lancashire pacemen ripped through the South Africans’ tail with four wickets for four runs in only 16 balls to boost his overall analysis to 5-72.
In reply, England were soon 3-2 as openers Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings fell in successive deliveries bowled by Philander, from the final ball of one over, and Morkel, from the first of the next, both caught by wicket-keeper de Kock.
Root and Gary Ballance, who made 27, steadied the ship with an 83-run stand in 14 overs that helped England survive until lunch without further damage, reaching 85-2.
Ballance’s exit soon after the resumption, bowled by Morkel, did not immediately suggest what was to come, but a visibly annoyed Root, Moeen Ali and Liam Dawson all met their end to loose shots and Morris blew away the England lower order soon after tea.
Elgar and Amla then stood firm with an unbeaten stand of 57 to put South Africa in firm control.
Anderson said afterwards: “Something the batsmen work on all the time is shot selection, playing and reading the situation, and I don’t think we did that well enough today.
“You would probably take 140-3, but unfortunately Joe couldn’t kick on, no-one could build a partnership after that and it was frustrating to get bowled out for such a low score, but you’re going to have days like that.
“It is a young side and we keep making vast improvements, but not every day is going to be perfect and we have to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We definitely need something special like two years ago (when England bowled Australia out for 60 in the first innings at Trent Bridge) if we are to win.
“We need a couple of people to stand up with the ball tomorrow and then we’ll have to bat out of our skin in the fourth innings to chase whatever is set.
“There’s plenty of time to fight our way back into the game and there is plenty of character in this team. We know we can do it, now we just have to dust ourselves down and go out and do it.”