England 64 for 0 (Cook 36*, Hales 28*) trail South Africa A 136 (Cook 53*, Finn 4-34, Stokes 3-25) by 72 runs
Scorecard

Steven Finn may well have bowled himself into the England team for the first Test against South Africa after an impressive display on the first day of the tour match at Pietermaritzburg.

On a sluggish pitch and against strong opposition with genuine international aspirations of their own, Finn bowled with pace, control and rhythm to claim four wickets to help England enjoy an almost perfect day. A post lunch spell of three wickets in nine balls was especially impressive and knocked the stuffing of the South Africa A middle order.

While Chris Woakes, who has impressed in white ball cricket and in training, was probably pencilled in to play in the first Test before the start of this game, Finn has taken the chance offered with a style that will surely prove hard to ignore. With just two days between the first and second Tests, it bodes well for England to have a group of seamers in decent form.

Stephen Cook offered South Africa A's only consolation as they succumbed for 136 in 56 overs. By carrying his bat for an unbeaten 53 in four-and-a-quarter hours, the uncapped 33-year-old demonstrated the patience, discipline and hunger required to prosper at Test level.

Finn, who was forced to pull out of England's Test series in the UAE in October after suffering a bone-stress injury in his left foot, was drafted into the squad as a late addition last week after impressing for England Lions in two Twenty20 comeback appearances against Pakistan A in Dubai.

Despite having played just three Tests in the last couple of years, Finn made a strong case to be considered a first-choice selection during his comeback game at Edgbaston during the Ashes. Bowling with the familiar pace of old, but also with an ability to swing the ball which he had developed during his spell out of the Test side, he claimed 6 for 47 in the first innings and looked to have recovered the form and confidence that rendered him such an exciting prospect at the start of his career.

It took him only three deliveries to strike here and, if his first wicket owed something to batsman error - Quinton de Kock edged a lavish drive outside off stump - his next three were the result of well-directed fast bowling that exposed the batsmen's frailties around off stump. Omphile Ramala sliced a drive to point, Khaya Zondo fenced to slip and Dane Vilas appeared to be beaten for pace when he missed a straight one.

It is still slightly premature to state for certain that Finn will play in the first Test. The England support staff will monitor how he recovers from his exertion in the morning. But, presuming that nothing untoward occurs, it would be a surprise if he does not play in Durban now.

The selection of third seamer was the only dilemma left for England, but this was a pleasing day in other respects. Despite the heat and humidity, England clung on to some fine catches, with James Taylor's effort at point - diving forward to snatch the ball up just off the turf - a highlight. Joe Root also held a couple of good chances, leaping above his head to hold on to an edge offered by Chris Morris, while Alex Hales, the new man in the cordon at third slip, also held a sharp chance.

The only real blemish came when Ben Stokes, at slip to Moeen Ali's off-spin, put down a sharp chance offered when Cook edged an arm-ball on 41. It is likely that James Anderson will return to fielding at slip off Moeen in the Test series, however, so Stokes' blemish need not provoke any lasting concern.

To complete England's day, Alex Hales batted with much greater assurance and unveiled some typically elegant strokes in helping his captain reach stumps without loss. Hales took one blow to the left hand courtesy of the distinctly hostile Marchant de Lange, but generally emerged with some credit from a tough examination. Barring injury, he is certain to open in Durban.

There is nothing untoward in Anderson's omission from the XI for this game. He is at the stage of his career where he knows what he needs in terms of preparation and also knows that, whatever cricket he has left, is best played on the pitch and not in the nets. He only bowled 12 overs ahead of the Pakistan series in the UAE.

Stuart Broad looks fine, too. Experienced enough to know this was not the game to try to rediscover those Ashes-winning spells, he bowled tidily and generated some decent bounce upon occasions. Stokes, too, was controlled and proved too good for the tailenders.

Mark Footitt, while not quite as consistent as his colleagues, also bowled pretty well. But while he produced a fine delivery to account for Reeza Hendricks - on off stump and demanding a stroke - he also went off the pitch one over into his second spell before lunch suffering from cramp. England are unlikely to take a chance on him in the immediate future.

Cook was the one batsman to play with the application required on a slightly two-paced surface offering some seam assistance. While he looked fortunate to survive two big leg before appeals against Finn, both times when he had scored 27, and has a tendency to play across straight balls, it is far from impossible he may win his chance at Test level before the end of the series.

The struggles of his teammates suggested that, whatever the strength of their Test XI - and the No. 1 Test ranking tells its own story - there is some doubt about the depth in quality of the game in South Africa.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo