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Hales heaps praise on Stokes and Bairstow

Alex Hales saluted the performances of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow after the sixth-wicket pair ensured England took the honours on the opening day of the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

The tourists, having won the toss, were in danger of letting a promising position slip after their top-four batsmen all failed to cash in on starts.

But Stokes and Bairstow, with 74 and 39 respectively, shared a brutal unbroken partnership of 94 to take their side to 317 for five at the close, deflating an inexperienced Proteas attack that was looking to make late inroads with the second new ball.

While Bairstow played the supporting role, Stokes went on the offensive and smashed 32 of the 46 runs scored in the seven overs with the fresh cherry to leave England, 1-0 ahead in the four-Test series, well placed.

“It was brilliant for us,” Hales told ecb.co.uk. “Heading into that last hour the game was pretty evenly poised, it could have gone either way.

Ben Stokes ensures England end day one in a strong position with an aggressive 74 off 93 deliveries

“The way Stokesy and Jonny played that second new ball was brilliant. It has given us the upperhand. It's a very important stage of the game on day one.

“The way those two played their attacking game and took the game back to their bowlers was pretty impressive.”

Hales, playing his second Test, was one of the four batsmen to miss the opportunity to take advantage of a Newlands pitch that appears ideal for batting.

He helped England secure their first half-century opening stand, to which Alastair Cook contributed 27, in eight matches before compiling his maiden Test fifty.

Hales departed when edging a Morne Morkel beauty behind on 60 while Nick Compton made 45 and Joe Root added 50, either side of James Taylor going first ball to leave Kagiso Rabada on hat-trick.

Root's dismissal with the score on 223 for five left the match evenly poised until Stokes and Bairstow joined forces.

“There was still that little bit of bounce from a good length that any ball during the innings could have your name on,” Hales explained.

“The guys will be frustrated to get a start and not kick on, but it is encouraging signs for us when we are bowling that we can exploit that movement.

“It was pretty tough the first hour or two with the new ball, once you get past that runs will come more freely but it was pretty tough.

“I guess it was our job to set it up for later in the day and we have put ourselves in a good position. As an opener once you get yourself in it is important that you do go on and get big scores.

Opening batsman Alex Hales, playing only his second Test, makes his maiden half-century in Cape Town

“There are going to be plenty of low scores around with the new ball. I am a bit disappointed not to go on for a big one but it is the start of something.”

Asked about batting at Newlands, a beautiful ground overlooked by Table Mountain, Hales added: “It is an incredible ground. What a day it has been, I loved every second of it.

“In a long day's Test cricket you need to have moments in between deliveries and overs when you do switch off and make sure you are focused when you are on strike. I did have time to absorb the atmosphere. I enjoyed it.”

Stokes and Bairstow's late alliance has given England a platform to push for a large first-innings total tomorrow that would put the pressure on the South Africans.

“The first half an hour, 45 minutes, are going to be critical. If we can get through that without a wicket, the way that Jonny, Stokesy and Moeen play, we can take the game away from them,” he added.