England reduced South Africa to 117-4 on day four of the third test, with defeat looking inevitable with the Proteas chasing an unlikely 492.
The Lion’s attack tired Proteas
After the disappointment of the rain-delayed previous day, England started the morning aiming to make amends for lost time. With Keaton Jennings on 34, and Tom Westley on 28, both would have been hoping to for a big score to justify their place in the side. However, early into the morning session, the unassured Jennings faced a short ball bowled by the enigmatic Kagiso Rabada which he could only manage to glove to gully. Jennings having fought hard yesterday and this morning for a gutsy 48, never looked fully comfortable. His luck that had carried him yesterday was suddenly up and England were left 92-2.
Whilst Jennings’ worries over his position have still not been put to bed, his captain Joe Root and debutant Westley provided a stiff contest to the Proteas’ bowling attack. With some beautiful strokes from both batsman, it was a good ball by Keshav Maharaj that unstuck Westley who, feeling confident, danced down the wicket and got stumped by a swift Quinton De Kock. It was a 59 he should be very proud of, batting with patience and intelligence, two things the injured Gary Balance often lacked. At 170-3 however, England were in the ascendency, and the debutants had continued to impress.
As one debutant left the crease, another one entered it and Dawid Malan came in when England were 350 ahead and under no pressure. He got off the mark to a wonderful shot, clearly feeling and looking very comfortable with the given situation. However, shortly after his arrival Maharaj bowled another great ball which brought the attacking Root forward to sweep, who, having just hit a solid 50 top-edged to Morne Morkel at deep square leg.
With Root out, the brutal dismantling of the South African attack continued as Ben Stokes came in to join Malan. Whilst at this point in time South Africa had got two quick wickets and were looking to press on, the pressure remained on them, as England’s lead was at 358 and with the pitch starting to offer more to the bowling team, this only increased the fear in the Proteas’ batsmen.
With England pressing but South Africa bowling well, Chris Morris caught Malan plumb in front, although the Proteas had to review after the original decision was given not out. An uninspiring 10 leaves his position less certain than Westley’s however it left England with Jonny Bairstow and Stokes at the crease with a lead of 380, an hour before tea and looking to kill off the resurrected South Africa at 202-5.
Party-time at The Oval
Stokes and Bairstow however batted on, both providing solid innings’ in response to some good bowling. As Stokes started to kick on, batting well and hitting some big shots, he was bowled by Morkel to one that kept low. England were reduced to 251-6 with a lead of 429 and it was looking likely that a declaration was due, with half an hour before tea left. However, Moeen Ali strode in to join Bairstow in the middle to continue the onslaught. Rather quickly after though, Ali was run out for 8 and at 265-7 it was clear that England were going to bat until tea to try and take any chance of victory away from South Africa.
As Toby Roland-Jones joined the party, him and Bairstow entertained the crowd, hitting three sixes in close succession until Bairstow didn’t quite get hold of one and was caught on the boundary by Rabada. Whilst Roland-Jones’ debut continues to improve having hit 23 not out following his five-for yesterday, Bairstow proved all doubters wrong with a confident and quick 63 that took all the impetus away from the tourists. With England’s lead at 492, South Africa’s hopes will be that they can bat out for a draw as a win looks out of the question.
England having proven for the past two sessions that this wasn’t the trickiest track to bat on, South Africa were given a chance as Dean Elgar was dropped at third slip by Jennings early on after tea. Jennings’ guilt was quickly rescinded though, as the very next over Stuart Broad bowled Heino Khun out. Broad’s pace and swing offered too much for him as he was bowled through the gate for 11. With South Africa left 24-1, England’s day was getting better as South Africa’s chances of a draw slipped away.
As the afternoon drifted into the evening and with Hashim Amla’s arrival at the crease, England were aware that the next hour’s play would be pivotal for their chances of a victory and with the weight of this pressure on their shoulders, they thrived. Amla, facing Roland-Jones’ bowling, edged a ball he was trying to leave to Root at second slip, who caught him low to the ground. Amla having gone for five and with South Africa 47-2, the signs were ominous as De Kock entered the scene.
With Stokes bowling at the other end, and England’s men very merry, he bowled the perfect yorker to bowl De Kock who could do nothing to keep it out, and he too was left walking away for 5. With Faf Du Plessis in next and wickets tumbling all around Elgar, the weight of the nation was on the captain who was perhaps the last man able of batting for the day needed to salvage a draw. Stokes however had other ideas. The ball after De Kock’s dismissal, Du Plessis decided to leave one on a length directly in front of his stumps to which the whole of The Oval jumped up in unison, and in response the Umpire’s finger rose.
The one light in the dark however was Elgar, who batted gracefully and freely in a defiant manner to reach his 50. His pushes through the onside were identical to those seen by the English batsmen and left the South African contingency pondering why the rest of the team couldn’t bat like him. At 96-4, Elgar had more than half of the runs and was providing a feint glimmer of hope which had appeared lost when De Kock was caught trapped.