And on the Fourth Day, time began to run out for England. South Africa has a gentle squeeze on this game, the 3rd Test, and, while they seem unwilling to exert their full strength, they are doing just enough to keep England one step behind them.
By the end of the day, South Africa had built a lead of 345, scoring 351 in their second innings, and England had fallen to 16-2. While Amla was the only centurion, scoring 121 until bowled by Finn, the others chipped in enough to give them a decent second innings score – enough at least to make victory for England extremely unlikely.
Beginning the day on 145-3, leading by 139, much of South Africa’s work had already been done. But, as has been the case all Test, each next session has been the critical session because neither team has been able to fully assert themselves. Build a lead of over 300, and England would struggle.
The seamers – Anderson and Finn – began well, the latter’s pace being extremely useful on this good wicket, but in the end it was Broad who got the first wicket, that of Steyn the nightwatchman. Swann bowled well again, with an economy rate of 2.00 and 2 wickets. Had Anderson not uncharacteristically dropped de Villiers, though, his figures would have better reflected his efforts. Taking such chances is critical.
Amla is one explanation for England not keeping South Africa below 200, but, as a unit, they have not had the zip and pep of earlier series. Although Swann and Anderson have bowled respectably, only Finn has seemed the more likely to take a wicket (8 in this Test). Perhaps fresh legs – and arms – are what’s required. Broad, for one, seems to lack his former bite. His economy rate was 4.04 this innings, with two wickets. Not bad, but not great. Perhaps a brief spell out of the side would give him a chance to recharge his batteries. Onions is bowling superbly and was surely unlucky to not make the side ahead of Finn these last two Tests.
There are two ways to bowl a side out: starve the opposition out with a strict economy rate, inducing errors in their search for runs; or take them in a more proactive fashion, even at the expense of a few more runs. Finn falls into the latter group, similar to Flintoff in his prime, and, to be fair, Broad when at his best.
Yet sometimes you just have to hand it to the batters. The South Africans were never daunted, and by the end of their innings, they will have felt confident their work had been done and that it was just a matter of time until they bowled England out.
And the South Africans started well. Philander, having made a useful 35 at No.8 (No.9 this innings because of Steyn coming in as nightwatchman), trapped both Strauss and Cook lbw. 16-2 and the probable result is coming into focus. If England lose 2-0, which seems most likely, South Africa will have earned their No.1 status.
But, with Bell and Trott at the wicket, two batters capable of scoring good centuries apiece, anything is possible. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?