World cricketer of the year Ben Stokes survived three reviews by South Africa as he and Ollie Pope regained the initiative for England on the first day of the third Test at St George’s Park on Thursday.
England were 224 for four at the end of an attritional day during which South Africa had briefly claimed the advantage.
England were 148 for four when Stokes and Pope came together, in danger of failing to capitalise on batting first on a placid pitch on a hot, sunny day.
But the pair added 76 without being parted and were able to lift a slow scoring rate after England were able to score only 117 for two in 58 overs before tea. Stokes was unbeaten on 38 at the close while Pope made 39 not out.
Stokes came into the match a day after being named player of the year by the International Cricket Council and on the back of a man-of-the-match performance when England levelled the four-match series by winning the second Test in Cape Town by 189 runs.
Stokes made a shaky start, surviving a leg before wicket review on umpire’s call against left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj and an appeal for a catch at slip off what South Africa thought was an inside edge off the pad.
South Africa wasted their last review when Stokes played no shot against Vernon Philander with the second new ball but the ball was well outside the off stump.
Kagiso Rabada took two wickets for South Africa but the home team’s most impressive bowler was Maharaj who took one for 55 in 32 overs. He bowled an unbroken spell of 30 overs which enabled captain Faf du Plessis to rotate his fast bowlers as England struggled to assert themselves.
Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley gave England a solid start, putting on 70 for the first wicket but both fell to catches at backward square leg.
Joe Denly was leg before to Maharaj when South Africa successfully sought a review which showed a ball headed for the stumps had hit pad before bat, while Root was beaten and bowled by a fast delivery from Rabada which hit the top of his off stump.
With the four-match series tied at 1-1, batting first appeared to be a considerable advantage on a pitch which had a fair covering of grass but which offered no help to the bowlers.
It was the sixth successive Test toss lost by Du Plessis.
South Africa picked new cap Dane Paterson as a specialist fast bowler in place of all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius. Paterson surprisingly shared the new ball with Philander, with the quicker Rabada and Anrich Nortje having to wait for their turn.
England brought back fast bowler Mark Wood in place of the injured James Anderson. Wood has not played since the World Cup final in July because of a knee injury but has been working on his fitness since the beginning of the tour. Wood has not played in a red-ball match since a Test series in the West Indies last February.