England on top as Steyn injury adds to SA troubles

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England forged a dominant position on the third day in Durban as an exemplary spell of offspin from Moeen Ali helped earn an 89-run lead which had been extended to 147 by tea. Dean Elgar fought almost a lone battle as he became the sixth South Africa opener to carry his bat with an outstanding 118, but problems continued to mount for them as Dale Steyn suffered a shoulder injury which led to him twice aborting an over.

Steyn initially pulled up after the second ball of his fourth over and it was soon reported that he would be heading for a scan later in the day. In the meantime he returned to the field and then tried to resume bowling only to abort again after three more deliveries. He struck a disconsolate figure as he returned for more ice in the dressing room.

Down to two frontline quicks, Hashim Amla’s resources were stretched although offspinner Dane Piedt did his best to keep his side in the contest while Morne Morkel produced a wholehearted spell which included two missed chances. Piedt drifted one into Alastair Cook to trap him lbw and complete a lean Test for the England captain at the end of a prolific 2015 then, after the innings progressed slowly, he had Alex Hales caught at long-on when some drift help defeat a lofted stroke down the ground.

South Africa could have been firmly back in the match before tea. In a hostile spell, both Nick Compton and Joe Root were given lives off Morkel. Compton, on 11, offered one of the easier slip chances you could see only for Elgar to grass the opportunity at second slip and then, in the final over of the session, Root gloved an attempted hook and AB de Villiers – who had been the focus of much speculation over his future during the day – could not take the chance one-handed above his head.

The day had started with South Africa 137 for 4, trailing by 166, and a game to be seized by whichever side was good enough. That proved to be England as the batting woes which beset South Africa on the tour of India continued to hamper key players in the line-up.

As when Stuart Broad started the innings, it took him just two deliveries to locate the stumps, Temba Bavuma this time defeated by some low bounce outside off and dragging on an inside edge. There was certainly some variation in bounce, but it was also the shot of a batsman who had yet to get his feet moving early in the day.

In another shrewd piece of captaincy, Cook did not wait long to introduce Moeen with two left-handers now at the crease, one of whom, JP Duminy, who has had his travails against offspin. And it took Moeen just two balls to find Duminy’s outside edge with a beautiful delivery which turned from middle and off, safely held by Ben Stokes at slip.

Kyle Abbott did not stay long, prodding forward at Moeen and getting a thick inside edge into his pad which was well held by James Taylor diving forward at short leg, although it needed the intervention of the third umpire after Rod Tucker had failed to spot the sizeable deflection.

The support provided by Steyn to Elgar suggested that he should be at No. 8 ahead of Abbott. Their stand took South Africa to the brink of the second new ball only for Steyn to try and send Moeen down the ground and instead find mid-off where Chris Woakes held the chance with a juggle. It was the first time Moeen had taken more than three wickets in an innings since facing India, at Old Trafford, in August 2014 and his display was an impressive response to a challenging series against Pakistan in the UAE.

Moeen’s spell was worth 12-3-24-3 when the new ball became available, which was immediately handed to the quick bowlers. This time Finn shared the role with Broad and struck with his first delivery when Piedt edged a full ball. Two deliveries later the innings was done and dusted when Morkel flashed to Root at second slip.

Elgar remained undefeated with his fourth Test hundred having brought up three figures from 211 deliveries. In an innings marked by his defensive technique, he continued to prosper on the leg side where two thirds of his runs came. It was his second hundred in a Boxing Day Test, following the 121 he made against West Indies last year, and this was his first 50-plus score in ten innings. When the innings ended he became the first South Africa opener to carry his bat since Gary Kirsten against Pakistan in 1997.