Nine lives not enough as Rassie van der Dussen and Dean Elgar let the advantage slip

Visiting South Africa is wild. Just ask England. They've already encountered the buffalo and the hadeda and today, at Newlands, they met the rather more humble cat.

It was not quite nine lives that Rassie van der Dussen enjoyed at the crease, but he had at least five as he shared in the first century stand of the series and notched up his second successive fifty in Test cricket. But it was not enough and South Africa finished the day at a distinct disadvantage.

On a bitty batting card, van der Dussen stood out because he, by virtue of the man he replaced, Temba Bavuma, is the player everyone is talking about. And now they're also wondering. Will van der Dussen make runs and justify his spot? Or will he fail and the rallying cry for Bavuma to return get louder? So far, van der Dussen has done more of the former but not without some luck.

Van der Dussen's squeaky-bum streak began 18 balls into his innings, with only one shot of significance to his name - four past the slips. He was given out lbw off James Anderson and immediately reviewed. Van der Dussen knew he had inside-edged the ball onto his front pad and replays confirmed it. He was on 6 at the time and South Africa on 52 for 3, with Dean Elgar the only surviving member of the top order.

Elgar's 31 runs at that stage of the innings had came fairly authoritatively, with the highlights being a well-timed drive through mid-off and a much more aggressive square drive in Stuart Broad's first over. He had seen his opening partner, the No.3, and his captain all caught in the cordon and he was almost found out there himself. Elgar had also been sucked into going forward to Anderson, had also edged, and his chance had fallen short of the slips. Fate warned Elgar once and he wasn't going to tempt it again.

He composed himself at lunch, returned to bat with greater control, and brought up fifty. At the other end, van der Dussen was still flirting with danger. He stepped out of his crease to spank Sam Curran through the covers, but then was caught behind after gloving a snorter from Broad. Van der Dussen thought he was out for 16 and halfway back to the change room when the big screen showed that Broad had overstepped.

In this third life, van der Dussen initially appeared a little more settled. He threaded the ball through gaps in the field, twice, responded quickly when Elgar wanted a risky single and rotated strike. Then on came Anderson again, who found the outside edge but the ball didn't carry to slip.

That chance sent van der Dussen back into defensive mode. He took just five singles off the next 18 balls and then Anderson was at it again. He found the edge, it carried, Ben Stokes got hands to the low chance, but the impact of his elbow on the ground caused the ball to bobble out. Van der Dussen was on 43 and survived until tea. By then, his partnership with Elgar had reached three figures, South Africa were 128 runs behind, and had seven wickets in hand.

Despite the crack outside the right-handers' off stump, which was causing problems for van der Dussen, he was unrattled. After the break, he brought up his second successive half-century in just his third Test. He is unlikely to make way for Bavuma anytime soon. "People see Rassie as a swashbuckling one-day cricketer but he has applied himself well domestically," Elgar said. "He is not just a trap-and-klap (step and hit) cricketer, he can knuckle down."

That was the plan for the rest of the day for both van der Dussen and Elgar, but Elgar was the first to deviate from it. In a moment of madness, what he called "a brainfart, a big one", Elgar stepped out to hit Dom Bess over mid-off, hit the ball straight up, and gifted Joe Root a catch at mid-off. Elgar understood the magnitude of his mistake straight away.

"It's not right of me playing shots like that, especially me being the senior batter. I shouldn't be putting the guys under pressure like that but I am also a human being but I am allowed to make mistakes. I've got two arms, two legs and the other thing, so I am also allowed to make mistakes," Elgar said. "I could have blocked it and blocked out the rest of the over and maybe been not out overnight and the game would have been totally in our favour."

Van der Dussen may be thinking the same thing. He had to step up when Elgar was dismissed but he only managed to middle two more ball - a pull shot and a flick to fine leg off Stokes - before he was tied down again. He also watched Quinton de Kock come in, attempt to blaze awat, and depart, and would have known the importance of taking South Africa to the close. But four overs before the second new ball was due, van der Dussen edged Curran to second slip and his lives ran out. Stokes was the cat who got the cream.

Had van der Dussen fully captalised, he could have taken South Africa to stumps in sight of a first-innings lead. Instead, the tail has been exposed and a deficit looms. Though both teams are convinced the pitch still has plenty of runs in it, they also both expect the sun to hasten the opening up of the cracks, especially the troublesome one at the Kelvin Grove End, and spin to play a role, so any run advantage could prove game-changing and South Africa know it.

There are also the other factors, like inexperience in the line-up against the quality of England's attack and a partisan crowd supporting the tourists, that Elgar thinks could sway performances. All of a sudden, South Africa are facing an entirely different beast to the one they took on at SuperSport Park. "The younger batters have got to keep knuckling down. It's up to the older players to make their transition a lot easier but we are not in that position where we have older players around. Everyone seems to retire," Elgar said. "[Our young batsmen] are in a very tough position. They are facing quality seamers. Jimmy is the highest wicket-taker for England ever. There is a massive English fan base. It feels like we are playing in Trent Bridge. You've just got to respect your failures when they come your way."

What kind of animal will be unleashed on day three?