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England fight back after relentless South African bowling display

Centurion, South Africa: England bowled themselves back into contention on a dramatic second day of the first Test – but will need to find a way to counter South Africa’s new-ball threat when they bat in the final innings, according to England batsman Joe Denly.

South Africa finished a gripping second day’s play at SuperSport Park on Friday with an overall lead of 175 runs with six second innings wickets remaining.

Fifteen wickets fell for 260 runs during the day, with England succumbing to a relentless, Vernon Philander-inspired South African bowling performance.

Philander took four for 16 in 14.2 overs as South Africa appeared to have taken control by bowling out England for 181, a first innings lead of 103.

But England struck hard at the start of the second innings. South Africa were 72 for four at the close on a pitch which has proved difficult for batsmen throughout.

"We’re still very much in the Test match," said Denly, who top-scored with 50 after being dropped on nought and taking 28 balls to score his first run.

Denly, batting at number three, had to survive outstanding bowling by Kagiso Rabada and Philander, who dismissed opening batsman Rory Burns and did not concede a run in a five-over opening spell.

"They are two world-class bowlers and they made it very hard work," said Denly. 

"I think it’s a new-ball wicket and if we can get through the new ball in the second innings relatively unscathed I’ll back ourselves to chase down a target of hopefully less than 300."

Philander, 34, who has announced he will retire from international cricket at the end of the four-Test series, produced a master class of control to complement the strike power of fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada (three for 68) and Anrich Nortje (two for 47).

Wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock equalled the South African Test record by holding six catches, a feat which had been accomplished six times before – on four occasions by new head coach Mark Boucher.

"It was the consistency of hitting that right area,” said Philander, who suggested South Africa might have bowled out England for a lower total.

"At times we bowled a little bit too short and offered them a bit too much just after lunch."

Philander said it was a pitch on which it "was really tough to score".

He said that if South Africa could set England 300 or more they would “probably be in the safe zone.” He said he hoped the pitch, already offering sideways movement and some uneven bounce, would continue to deteriorate.

Denly shared in partnerships of 55 for the third wicket with captain Joe Root (29) and 72 for the fourth wicket with Ben Stokes (35).

England collapsed, however, after Denly was caught behind off an inside edge to give all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius his first Test wicket. From a promising position at 142 for three, England lost their last seven wickets for 39 runs.

Wickets continued to fall when South Africa batted again. James Anderson, who dismissed Dean Elgar with the first ball of the match on Thursday, again claimed a wicket in his first over when Aiden Markram played around his pads and was leg before wicket.

Zubayr Hamza was caught by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler down the leg side before Elgar was caught behind for 22 off Archer’s second ball to reduce South Africa to 29 for three.

Rassie van der Dussen appeared to have been caught by Ben Stokes at second slip off Sam Curran when he had five but an umpire’s review showed the ball had bounced just before it reached a diving Stokes.

Van der Dussen helped captain Faf du Plessis add 33 for the fourth wicket before Du Plessis, who had hooked a fired-up Archer for six, was caught at long leg when he played another hook shot.

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