'Got a problem with each other': England teammates in ugly on-field spat

A former England captain says "he's pleased" to see footage of two of the team's stars engaging in a heated exchange during their disappointing first Test defeat to South Africa.

South Africa swept to a 107-run victory on the fourth day of the first Test at Centurion Park after taking seven wickets in the second session to go one up in the four-match series.

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England, needing an improbable 376 to win, were bowled out for 268 just before tea on Sunday as their bottom order offered scant resistance to a barrage of pace once South Africa had taken the second new ball.

However, it was on day three when a major crack appeared in the England side after a heated exchange between vice-captain Ben Stokes and veteran fast bowler Stuart Broad.

Bizarrely, the clash between the pair happened just after England had taken a wicket, with Stokes apparently taking exception to something Broad said.

“Well that doesn’t look like a very friendly conversation does it?” Michael Holding said in commentary.

“I’m not sure what started it, but hopefully it will end soon.”

Former England captain Nasser Hussain insisted there was nothing to the incident, other than it illustrated England's fire to get themselves back in the contest.

England teammates Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad were captured on footage in a heated argument. Pic: AAP

“England’s hot in the weather and not feeling well. I’m pleased that a few words were exchanged to be honest,” Hussain added.

“(They’ve) Got a problem with each other, Broad has said something in the huddle that Stokes is not amused with and England’s vice captain picks him up on it. I don’t mind that at all.”

Hussain's reference to England not feeling well centred around a bug that had swept through the team, although captain Joe Root refused to use it as an excuse for the loss.

Ten England players and four support staff had been laid up at one time or another over the last 15 days since the side arrived in South Africa as mystery bug hit the squad, hampering their performance as they lost by 107 runs at Centurion Park.

Several were quarantined, including Ollie Pope, who missed out on playing, and key bowlers Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad battled to be fit in time for the opener at Centurion Park.

"We are not going to hide behind that as an excuse but a lot of our squad have been taken ill over the last two weeks," Root said after England were dismissed for 268 in their second innings on the fourth day.

‘It was frustrating’

"We've had to deal with a lot; Ben (Stokes) in particular with that horrible thing with his father."

Stokes' father suffered a stroke soon after arriving in Johannesburg to watch his son play but is now out of intensive care.

"So there has been a lot thrown at the squad over the last weeks and I think everyone has tried to deal with it as best they can.

"There are certain things you try to control but some that you can't. We've done very well that it did not affect as many it could," Root added.

"It was frustrating but it has happened now and hopefully the illness has now passed the camp and we can all be fighting fit and ready to go for Cape Town and bounce back very quickly from this match."

The second test at Newlands starts on January 3.

Root said his team had shown much fight and character but mostly from a position of adversity.

"We have to show that from the start of the game too and when we get a chance to turn the screws we need to take it, both with bat and ball," he said.

"That is where this game was won and lost and we are going to have to learn our lesson very quickly."

South Africa's win was underpinned by Kagiso Rabada, who proved the destroyer-in-chief with 4-103, assisted by Anrich Nortje who took 3-56.

"Our bowling unit was very effective and it is a massive confidence booster for our team," said South Africa captain Faf du Plessis after arresting a run of five successive Test defeats.

"We played with great skills over the last two days with contributions from everyone."

England had been hoping for heroics in a delicately poised contest as they started the day on 1-121 and still looked capable of a dramatic win despite losing two wickets by lunch.

But the turning point proved the key wickets of both England captain Root and potential match-winner Stokes.

Stokes, who had led England's highest ever successful run chase when they scored 9-362 at Headingley to beat Australia earlier this year, was bowled by spinner Keshav Maharaj for 14 just as he and Root were increasing the run rate after England had gone to lunch on 3-171.

The second new ball then accounted for Jonny Bairstow, who hit a boundary off Rabada before edging the second delivery of the 81st over to gully, where Zubayr Hamza took a sharp catch.

Root battled his way to 48 before being caught behind, effectively ending England's hopes.