Nick Compton and James Taylor hit half-centuries and dug England out of trouble on a rain-hit first day of the first Test against South Africa at Kingsmead on Saturday.
England were 179 for four at the close of play after being sent in to bat. Fast bowler Dale Steyn spoiled a good recovery by the tourists when he struck shortly before the close, having Taylor caught behind for 70.
Compton and Taylor came together with England struggling on 49 for three and forged a partnership of 125 off 274 balls. Taylor was dismissed in fading light, capping a fine comeback from injury by Steyn, who took three for 29.
Steyn dismissed English opening batsmen Alastair Cook and Alex Hales cheaply, while off-spinner Dane Piedt took the wicket of Joe Root for 24 with his first ball of the match.
Compton and Taylor batted solidly on a slow pitch which did not offer the bowlers as much assistance as South African captain Hashim Amla might have hoped when he won the toss and sent England in to bat in overcast conditions.
Compton, returning to the city of his birth and early upbringing, was resolute and almost strokeless at times as he made 63 not out off 179 balls, with four boundaries. The diminutive Taylor was more enterprising, using his feet well, particularly against the spin bowlers, and made his runs off 137 balls with nine fours and a six off left-arm spinner Dean Elgar.
After rain delayed the start, only 27 minutes of cricket was possible before rain brought an early lunch, while there was a 22-minute rain break during an extended afternoon’s play.
Steyn, who had not played any cricket since suffering a groin injury on the first day of the four-match Test series in India on November 5, found his rhythm almost immediately and had skipper Cook caught at second slip by Elgar for a duck off the fifth ball of his second over. He did not concede a run in the 3.1 overs he bowled before lunch.
“We were lucky to get the wicket at the end but we’ll take it,” Steyn said. “Conditions are tough when you are coming on and off for rain. This field holds the water a little bit, the ball is kind of damp all day and it made it tough to swing and shape.”
England new cap Alex Hales got off the mark with a clip to leg for two off the first ball he faced from Kyle Abbott and looked comfortable at the crease, although the only ball he faced against Steyn during the morning was the last delivery before the rain.
When play resumed, he faced only four more balls without adding to his score of ten before edging a Steyn outswinger to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers. Root looked busy at the crease and made 24 off 37 balls, including a pulled six off Abbott. But he went back on his stumps when Piedt came into the attack and was trapped leg before wicket by a ball which spun back at him.
He asked for a review of umpire Aleem Dar’s decision but replays showed the ball would have clipped the top of his stumps. The breakthrough achieved, Amla took Piedt off and brought back Steyn.
But Taylor looked confident from the start of his innings, showing composure at a time when his team was on the back foot. He was satisfied with the days proceedings. “I thought overall it was pretty solid day for us. To get into the position we are in now it was pretty special day for the England camp,” Taylor told reporters.