Cook, Westley make fine start in Oval's 100th test

LONDON: Alastair Cook and debutant Tom Westley ensured a new-look England made an encouraging start against South Africa in The Oval's 100th test on Thursday, moving the home side to 62 for one at lunch on the first day.

Having blooded three new players in the team for this third test, with the four-match series level at 1-1, it was the experienced Cook who led the way after England had won the toss, negotiating an awkward first session with an unbeaten 34.

The former captain was given capable and occasionally enterprising support from his Essex county colleague Westley, who scored 24 in an unbroken half-century second-wicket stand before rain brought an early lunch.

The pair had come together after the struggling Keaton Jennings departed for a duck in the fourth over of the morning, caught at third slip by Dean Elgar after a tentative prod at Vernon Philander.

It was an encouraging response from England's batsmen after their dismal performance at Trent Bridge, where South Africa hammered them by 340 runs to square the series after the home side's win at Lord's.

On an overcast morning and on a pitch with a tinge of green, there were inevitable moments of concern for the batting side, not least when Cook, on 28, survived an lbw review, the faintest of inside edges off Chris Morris sparing him.

Captain Joe Root had won the toss, giving England the chance to bat in the landmark 100th test at the south London venue which has become one of cricket's most storied homes over 137 years.

It joins another London venue Lord’s and Australia’s Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Grounds in hosting a century of tests.

Westley was one of three debutants, coming in at number three in place of the injured Gary Ballance, while Middlesex's Dawid Malan was introduced at number five and his county team mate, seamer Toby Roland-Jones, replaced the injured Mark Wood.

Paceman Kagiso Rabada returned for South Africa after being suspended for the second Test and the Proteas' attack offered enough menace in encouraging conditions to suggest it might end up as a toss worth losing.

Yet Cook, with four boundaries off 77 balls, and Westley, who looked far from fazed by the step up in class as he struck five fours off 47 balls faced, weathered the potential storm.