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Faf du Plessis had cause to anticipate a satisfying return to the Test captaincy as South Africa took a potentially decisive first-innings lead of 130 midway into the final session of the second day of the second Investec Test at Trent Bridge.
The panache of Joe Root, a young captain eager to assert himself, provided England's main sustenance as they mustered only 205 in awkward batting conditions, dismissed in only 51.5 overs as they trusted to enterprise and came up short.
Root's elegance made light of the challenge posed by South Africa's attack as he required only 76 balls for his 78. He played with authority from the outset, before a misjudgement against Morne Morkel saw him edge to the wicketkeeper.
The rest of England's first innings had less to commend it as South Africa held sway on a pitch that had quickened since the opening day and with plentiful swing and seam on offer under overcast skies. Their last seven wickets evaporated for 62 in 22.4 overs
By tea, England had moved within 151 runs of South Africa's 335, but six wickets had been relinquished. Their problems intensified after tea as three wickets fell within eight balls.
Moeen Ali fell tamely to a pre-conceived plan by South Africa, flapping a full ball from Chris Morris out of the footholes to du Plessis at point. Stuart Broad received the cheers awarded to a local boy, but his innings are always hair-raising affairs and this one did not make it past the first ball as South Africa successfully reviewed Morris' lbw appeal.
Liam Dawson had managed to escape a fourth successive Test duck - Bob Holland, Ajit Agarkar and Mohammad Asif hold the record with five - before having to overturn a caught behind decision against Morris, replays showing the ball had missed the bat by a distance. He did not make much use of his let-off, as he top-edged Keshav Maharaj to square leg.
England's increasingly tame affair came to a conclusion when Mark Wood deflected a rearing delivery to second slip. Morris, who had been largely overlooked earlier in the day - sending down only three overs of short stuff - touched up his figures with three of the last four wickets.
Morkel and Philander, South Africa's new-ball pair, posed most of the threat, with two wickets each, and when they were obliged to turn to the left-arm spin of Maharaj, with a holding operation in mind, he came up trumps with the wickets of Ben Stokes, for nought, and Jonny Bairstow shortly before tea.
Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings were rounded up in only 4.1 overs before lunch as it soon became apparent that South Africa's 335 offered them the chance of a sizeable first-innings advantage.
It took a review to remove Cook, with South Africa searching, initially at least, for an lbw as an inswinger from Philander flew off the pad to the wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. That mode of dismissal was ruled out by an inside nick, only for Cook to be dismissed courtesy of the keeper's catch.
Jennings fell to the next delivery, this time from Morne Morkel, a peach of a ball from around the wicket which bounced and left the Durham left-hander.
The rest of the morning was a story of South African ill-discipline as Root and Gary Ballance included 14 boundaries in an 83-run partnership spanning, in all, only 84 balls. Root produced some princely off-sides drives from the outset and had another Test fifty to his name by the interval. Ballance, who got off the mark with a fortunate edge wide of gully off Philander, offering hunched support, sitting deep in his crease with the suspicious air of a mole peering out of a mole hill. South Africa's challenge was much more focused throughout the afternoon, although their back-up seamers carried limited potency.
Ballance perished in the second over after lunch, bowled by Philander as he deflected the ball onto his pads, but the key wicket was that of Root, who had looked immaculate square of the off-side, and who picked off the leg-side in turn whenever South Africa's bowlers tried to straighten their line.
Bairstow, who lacked Root's certainty, was more of a bellwether. He reached 45, but survived two hairy moments against Morkel on the way, the ball twice flying perilously close to his stumps off a play-and-miss that escaped for four byes and an inside edge. Another edge spared him when South Africa reviewed a refused lbw appeal by Philander.
Maharaj then took a hand. Stokes fell for a 12-ball duck, his inside edge onto his pads, finally clutched at the second attempt, off his shoulder, by de Kock as he changed direction. There was a hint of helmet involved, which would have spared him, but after innumerable replays he was sent on his way.
Maharaj also found a hint of turn to bowl Bairstow, bringing South Africa their fourth wicket in a productive session.
Earlier, James Anderson had demolished South Africa's tail in a spell of 4 for 4 in only 20 deliveries to finish with 5 for 72, taking five in an innings for the 22nd time in his Test career.
England had carped about the second new ball on the previous evening, and they managed to negotiate an immediate change on the second morning. The skies were grey, the floodlights were on and Anderson had a spring in his step, his 34 years falling off him with every delivery.
Anderson was only five balls into his work, hardly time to get the lungs motoring, when Philander became his first victim. Philander had made a contented half-century on the first evening, but he had not added to his overnight 54 when he popped a catch into the covers off a leading edge as he fell to a back-of-a-length delivery.
Maharaj followed without scoring in Anderson's next over, outwitted by the inswinger/outswinger routine, his edge inviting Root to hold a flamboyant catch at second slip.
Morris pushed back a gentle catch which Anderson grabbed at the second attempt before the innings was closed when Morkel edged another outswinger. South Africa had added only 26, but they knew that they would have their own opportunity to turn such conditions to their benefit.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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