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Cook keeps Proteas seamers at bay on an absorbing day

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England's Alastair Cook fought an all-day battle with the Standard Bank Proteas five-man attack as the two sides fought for supremacy on the opening day of the third Test match at The Oval in London on Thursday.

On balance, the Proteas could probably claim to hold a slight advantage, particularly after losing the toss, as they restricted England to 171/4 on a rain-shortened opening day on which only 59 overs were possible to be bowled.

It was a day on which any batsman needed a bit of good fortune to survive and Cook had a few edges that found gaps or fell short of the slips cordon but he left better than most and he showed the necessary concentration and experience to get through some difficult patches.

It was the first time he had made runs in the first innings in the series and that was not without significance. He finished unbeaten on 82 (178 balls, 10 fours).

The Proteas would not have been that unhappy to lose the toss under overcast conditions and a pitch that unusually had slight tinges of green to it. It was certainly not the flat track that has been traditional for Test matches at this particular venue.

Vernon Philander led the Proteas attack superbly, starting the day with three maiden overs that included the wicket of Keaton Jennings but he had to leave the field with a stomach complaint after an opening spell of only 4 overs and was not able to resume bowling until an hour after lunch.

The rest of the attack took some time to find their radar and England were able to proceed quite comfortably to an early lunch after 22.1 overs at 62/1.

It was a different attack that came out to bowl after lunch with Morne Morkel, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada all putting in top-class spells. Morkel again went wicketless as he did in the second innings at Trent Bridge when he also bowled superbly and sooner or later his luck must change for the better. He caused a packet of trouble for England’s two senior batsmen, Cook and Joe Root.

Morris got the session off to a good start by getting rid of Tom Westley straight away and, when Philander returned, he accounted for Root with a superb delivery thanks in no small way to a superb one-handed catch by Quinton de Kock.

Rabada got rid of debutant Dawid Malan with a Yorker to clean his man up and the Proteas could claim the session, having taken 3/87 in 29.5 overs.

Keshav Maharaj also played his part when called on to do so and he may give South Africa a significant edge on a pitch where the bowlers’ footmarks are already becoming evident now that England have opted to leave out their left arm spinner to make room for an extra batsman.

Only half an hour of play was possible in the final session before the weather intervened for a final time.