BEN Stokes was cast in a familiar role on day one of the third Test against South Africa, charged with bailing England out of a tricky situation alongside Ollie Pope in Port Elizabeth.

Stokes, the freshly minted world player of the year following his exploits in 2019, was left to carry the can when Joe Root lost his off stump to Kagiso Rabada.

That dismissal left England on 148-4. However, Stokes and Pope steered the tourists to 224 without any further loss of wickets.

England had threatened to fritter an opening stand of 70 between Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, but what initially looked like a bowler’s graveyard at St George’s Park was slowly revealed as a trickier proposition, as the Proteas gnawed away.

Stokes battled through some tough moments, and no less than three reviews, to finish up with a score of 38 not out at stumps, while Pope timed his shots better than anyone in a lively unbeaten 39.

Sibley (36) and Crawley (44) had earlier become the first English openers to bat out the opening session of a Test since Sir Andrew Strauss and Sir Alastair Cook in 2011, setting up false expectations of a one-sided contest between bat and ball.

Crawley has so far posted a new Test best score in each of his four innings for England. He started with a low base of one, then made four in his second knock.

Things have slowly started to head in a more promising direction, with efforts of 25 and 44 suggesting a growing comfort with life at the highest level.

Meanwhile, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis must have forgotten what it feels like to choose between batting and bowling, having lost six consecutive tosses.

He still has some way to go before he matches compatriot Graeme Smith’s run of eight successive losses between 2008-09. Former England skipper Nasser Hussain still holds the unwanted record though, with 10 in a row from 2000-01.