By Mark Gleeson
PRETORIA (Reuters) – Hashim Amla scored an unbeaten century and Stephen Cook was 91 not out to lead South Africa to 224 for one at tea on the first day of the final test against England as the hosts bid to salvage pride in a lost series.
Amla’s 25th test century came off 131 balls in a confident display which brought him 18 fours while Cook was nine runs short of a debut test century at Centurion Park on Friday.
Amla, who gave up the captaincy after the second test to concentrate on his batting, looked effortless as he raced to three figures to cheers South Africa who lost two of the first three tests and the series. He was 102 not out at the interval.
Cook, handed his debut at the age of 33 in one of five South Africa changes after defeat in Johannesburg last week, offered a straightforward chance after lunch when he got a healthy edge to a Stuart Broad delivery but was dropped by wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow on 47.
There was another more difficult opportunity for Bairstow down the leg side when Cook was on 76.
But Cook, whose father Jimmy was dismissed first ball when he made his debut for South Africa in 1992 at the age of 39, looked organised at the crease as he brought to the test arena his dominant form in domestic competition.
He hit a four off the first ball of the match when James Anderson’s delivery strayed down leg side.
Yet another freakish catch by James Taylor at short leg was the only positive moment of the day for England as Dean Elgar was dismissed for 20 in unusual circumstances before lunch.
Taylor showed a sharp presence of mind to grasp a catch after Elgar’s stinging shot hit him in the leg and the ball somehow got stuck around his calf, allowing him to snatch it up before it dropped to the ground.
Elgar had danced down to wicket to Moeen Ali, hitting with some power, and will count himself exceedingly unlucky to have been dismissed after a lengthy review of the television evidence by the third umpire.
It was the third extraordinary catch in the last two tests for the diminutive Taylor, thriving in the most dangerous position on the field.
South Africa won the toss and had no hesitation in electing to take first use of a good batting wicket.
Their advantage was increased by a poor England bowling display with too many balls drifting down the leg-side or pitched too short.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)