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South Africa fight back after England grab first-ball wicket

James Anderson marked his 150th cap and return to the England attack at Centurion Park with the first-ball wicket of home opener Dean Elgar, as Sam Curran and Stuart Broad took two scalps each.

South Africa's Quinton de Kock (R) plays a shot during the first day of the first Test cricket match between South Africa and England at The SuperSport Park Stadium at Centurion near Pretoria on 26 December 2019. Picture: AFP.

PRETORIA - England took a South African wicket with the opening delivery of their test series on Thursday, adding four more in the first two sessions before a strong sixth-wicket partnership saw the hosts through to 187-5 at tea.

James Anderson marked his 150th cap and return to the England attack at Centurion Park with the first-ball wicket of home opener Dean Elgar, as Sam Curran and Stuart Broad took two scalps each.

Quinton de Kock then sought to bash his team out of trouble, making a quickfire 64 off 69 balls to keep up home hopes of a decent score in the first innings of the four-test series.

He and 30-year-old debutant Dwaine Pretorius (25) had taken their unbeaten partnership to 76 by tea.

Broad, who had been a doubt after missing the warm-up games with flu, took 2-29 off 11 overs, including the promising Zubayr Hamza for 39 and captain Faf du Plessis, who made 29.

Curran had opener Aiden Markram out for 20 and then Rassie van der Dussen, another debutant at 30, caught behind for six.

The 37-year-old Anderson’s first ball back in test cricket for five months, having limped out of the Ashes with a calf injury, was a warm-up delivery down the leg side that Elgar tried to flick at but instead edged through to wicketkeeper Jos Buttler.

That set the tone for a scratchy early batting display.

Markram looked in positive form after recovering from a broken wrist, sustained when he thumped the change room wall after being dismissed for a pair of ducks in South Africa’s second test in India in October.

But he contrived to chip the ball to Jonny Bairstow at midwicket for 20 off 23 balls.

Hamza, 24 and playing in just his third test, was caught behind by Ben Stokes off Broad for 39, just when he was looking likely to establish his credentials in an inexperienced South Africa team struggling after the recent retirement of many stalwarts.

England all-rounder Stokes elected to play as the health of his hospitalised father Ged, who fell seriously ill in Johannesburg on Monday, showed signs of improvement.

England’s selection had been in doubt up until Thursday morning as several players had been struck down by illness. Jack Leech, Ollie Pope and Chris Woakes remained out of contention, but Jofra Archer was another to recover in time to play.