Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley became the first England openers to post a century stand in over three years as they reached 100 without loss on a rain-affected first day in the fourth Test against South Africa.
The entire morning session at the Wanderers was wiped out by the Johannesburg weather but when play did get under way England held all the cards, Crawley’s 57no representing a fine maiden half-century and Sibley moving to 39no after being caught off a no-ball on 12.
The last time England’s top two put on a three-figure partnership was back in 2016, when Sir Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings added 103 in Chennai.
England’s hopes of turning their 2-1 series lead into a 3-1 win were earlier hit by a postponement of three hours and 20 minutes, as well as the withdrawal from contention of Jofra Archer due to an eleventh hour aggravation of his right elbow injury.
Archer had done everything possible over the previous 48 hours to put himself in the frame, sending down extensive spells at full pace in each of the net sessions, and arrived at the ground highly likely to play.
Things went wrong quickly, though, pulling out of his pre-match bowling drill almost immediately with a recurrence of the soreness in the joint. There were conversations with the team doctor, captain Joe Root and head coach Chris Silverwood and finally consoling pats on the back from a handful of team-mates.
Any uncertainty over fitness is sure to be exposed over five days of Test cricket and Archer’s late flare-up made him a risk that could not be countenanced.
The sense of disappointment was eased at the toss, which extended Faf du Plessis’ losing streak to seven in a row and allowed Root to bat first. The prospect of facing Kagiso Rabada on one of his favourite pitches might not have filled his openers with joy but with the paceman banned, Crawley and Sibley soon began settling in.
Crawley took control early, drilling the retiring Vernon Philander for handsome fours through mid-off and cover and, having forced an early bowling change, helped himself to 11 off Anrich Nortje’s first over.
Philander changed ends and thought he had Sibley for 12, the right-hander poking to gully. Du Plessis had just begun to congratulate the catcher, Temba Bavuma, when umpire Joel Wilson signalled a no-ball. Philander had overstepped and South Africa’s only real chance had evaporated.
Sibley rubbed it in with his strongest shot to date, punching Philander past mid-on, but it was Crawley who was doing the damage. He moved to 49 with three boundaries in a single over from Dwaine Pretorius – one on the leg-side, one on the off-side and one down the ground – and reached his first 50 with a thick edge.
Crawley had taken 80 balls to get there, with 60 dots and 36 in boundaries. He was feeling confident enough to take on a 92mph Nortje bouncer, but earned a nasty blow to the helmet for his trouble.
He continued after concussion testing, albeit with a visible bump, and was there to see Sibley work the last ball of the session off his hips to bring up the team hundred.