England debutant Tom Westley saluted the doggedness of former skipper Alastair Cook after he spearheaded his side’s defiance against South Africa on a truncated first day of the third Investec Test at the Kia Oval.
Cook finished a rain-affected final session on 82 not out as England adopted a more disciplined and workmanlike performance than was evident in their 340-run annihilation at Trent Bridge to amass 171-4 in the 59 overs possible.
The 32-year-old shared a half-century partnership with Essex team-mate Westley following the early loss of struggling opener Keaton Jennings, before adding 49 with captain Joe Root and an unbeaten 51 with Ben Stokes.
Cook’s performance was the antithesis of England’s collective batting approach in the second Test, which drew stinging criticism from a host of ex-captains, and was welcomed by international rookie Westley.
“It just shows what happens if you persist and you work hard,” said Westley.
“It did nip around today, but Cooky being Cooky fought through that. That’s one of his best qualities. He works hard for his runs and he’s determined. Thankfully that showed through today. He got a brilliant 80 and hopefully he can kick on.
“The way he played shows you can score runs on that wicket. It’s encouraging if we can get runs on the board, with our bowlers on that surface, we can be in a good position.”
After being presented with his cap before play by former England skipper Graham Gooch, Westley looked comfortable in his new surroundings until edging Chris Morris to Faf du Plessis in the slip cordon for 25 shortly after lunch.
South Africa captain Du Plessis had warned Westley, who scored a century for England Lions against a strong Proteas bowling attack in June, that a different proposition lay in wait here. Westley appeared unfazed and intimated there was little to fear from South Africa’s bowlers.
“As an individual, it’s what you make of the situation,” he added. “There are bowlers like that in the County Championship. In Division One and Division Two, there are a lot of good bowlers.
“It was a step up in terms of everything that goes with the pressure of Test cricket but that’s why it was equally frustrating because I felt I was coping nicely. The soft dismissal was frustrating.”
Seamer Kagiso Rabada was back in the South Africa line-up after serving a one-match suspension for swearing at Stokes at Lord’s, although he played second fiddle to a Vernon Philander masterclass.
Philander was a constant threat on a green-tinged Oval pitch as he finished with figures of 2-17 from 12 overs. He accounted for Jennings, who chalked up his third duck in nine Test innings. In this series, he has faced 23 balls from Philander and in that time scored two runs and been dismissed on three occasions.
Philander also removed Root with the help of a stunning one-handed catch from wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, while Rabada produced a destructive yorker to dismiss Dawid Malan, who is also making his Test debut, for one. Stokes is unbeaten on 21.