England facing battle to save third Test
England finished the penultimate day of an absorbing third Test match with their backs against the wall on a score of 132-3 in pursuit of 466, after Graeme Smith declared South Africa’s mammoth second innings closed on 447-7.
The hosts had started the day with the task of scoring as quickly as possible with a mid afternoon declaration in mind and the captain picked up where he left off from his game altering performance on the previous day. His dismissal however, top-edging an attempted pull off Graham Onions, triggered a period of somewhat aimless play as South Africa failed to take the initiative against an England attack who were content to allow the game to meander along.
Kallis, who never attained the kind of fluency that brought him a first innings century, edged a wide delivery from Jimmy Anderson through to Prior and with JP Duminy starting nervously after being dismissed with his previous three balls in the series, it was up to AB de Villiers to take the initiative.
Things improved after lunch with Duminy finally finding a touch of form and Smith called his batsmen when he was dismissed to an Anderson short ball and the day’s serious action could begin.
Not that South Africa seemed to realise. Their body language didn’t reflect a side in complete control of a vital test match and England openers, after a cautious start, batted confidently to reach the tea interval on 38-0 and brought up their 100 partnership in the 36th over. Both looked in top nick with Cook hitting a succession of leg side boundaries, including a slog sweep for six off Paul Harris, and Strauss driving Dale Steyn for three fours in one over.
Test cricket has changed over the past few years and despite the enormous task in front of them some were beginning to suggest that England might be playing for the victory.
But hopes of a world record chase were dashed before the close with the loss of three quick wickets. Cook was the first to fall for 55 after pulling a Friedel de Vet long-hop straight up in the air for Mark Boucher to collect and his captain Strauss followed a few runs later, caught bat pad off the spinner Paul Harris to leave England 107-2. Strauss’ form has not been in doubt throughout this tour but he should be concerned that his conversion rate of starts to centuries, once a forte, has deserted him.
His dismissal brought in Kevin Pietersen, whose form since being run out in Centurion has become something of a concern and the man widely regarded as the jewel in England’s batting line-up never looked at home.
He was reprieved early after Daryl Harper, whose presence on the international scene is becoming something of a joke, adjudged him LBW when Pietersen had clearly inside edged the ball into his pads. But he was soon on his way for certain, this time without the need for a referral after he played across a delivery from Steyn and was LBW for just 6.
Jonathan Trott and the nightwatchman Anderson saw England to the close but the cluster of wickets in the final hour ensured that South Africa would remain firm favourites to take the series into a decider.
Meanwhile, the match officials confirmed that no further action would be taken on an alleged incident of ball tampering by England during the third day’s play. The local media had created something of a storm regarding footage of Anderson apparently altering the condition of the ball and removing a small piece of leather which had come loose.
Such is the stigma attached to the issue of ball tampering that the incident will undoubtedly attract headlines but it should soon be forgotten as a series which has had its share of controversy, heads towards a thrilling finale.