reports from Port Elizabeth
S Africa 428 and 162-9 dec England 263 and 20-0
After four days, this match still refuses to throw up a clear-cut front- runner, leaving the series similarly open. But if most of the cricket so far has followed a dull path muddied by the weather, yesterday's play would have confounded even the most seasoned predictors, as England fought back tenaciously, a bowler short, to limit South Africa and keep their eventual lead of 327 within range.
At the close, England were 20 without loss, needing a further 308 for victory and, unusually in the modern era, all outcomes are still possible, providing today's weather holds fine. However, at the start of play, England's prospects were far from sunny, and their best chance of saving this Test match was to still be batting by lunch. They were not.
To win it, South Africa had to be bowling at them by the close; which they were, but not with the kind of unsurpassable lead their cautious captain would have liked in order to winkle out England on this docile pitch.
However, although Ladbrokes are quoting the draw at 8-15 favourite - they clearly believe South Africa can kill the game should England, who are 12-1 to win, start to get on top - the home side, at 6-4, could still force a win, particularly if they can get Michael Atherton and two others out by lunch. Their new combination of pace and probe is not to be underestimated, and Paul Adams, in particular, will be a handful should his googlies begin to bite.
So far there has not been much evidence of that, although Adams did add to his overnight tally when he bowled Peter Martin off the inside edge. He finished his first innings of Test cricket with figures of 3 for 75, a marvellous effort from 37 overs of whole-hearted effort.
England, who had been so indebted to Jack Russell and Richard Illingworth the previous day, lost both them and Martin, in the space of 14 balls, leaving South Africa with a first-innings lead of 165, one difficult to squander on this track, even by England's standards.
But squander it they did as first Martin and then Dominic Cork sent their early batting packing, English swing combining with South African uncertainty to produce a cocktail of calamity for the home side.
The collapse began as early as the second over of the innings when Andrew Hudson, so often a diffident figure with the bat, chased a wide half-volley, only to see Russell take a good diving catch in front of first slip. Six overs later Hansie Cronje did likewise, obligingly following the swing. The ball ran to Russell off the open face of the bat.
Then came the crucial wicket of Daryll Cullinan, the one player with enough strokes to put the game out of England's reach. Bowling over the wicket, Illingworth frustrated the batsman into an injudicious mow from well outside leg stump. His back foot was only lifted for a moment, but Russell whipped the bails off, confident his man had not regained his ground, an assertion confirmed by the third umpire after a TV replay.
Russell, who is having a good series with the bat, is having an even greater one with the gloves and, when he later caught his opposite number off Cork, he moved within one of equalling Alan Knott's England record of 24 dismissals in a series. His proportion of 23 victims out of 48 wickets taken so far is much greater than Knott's.
But if Russell has been an ever-willing performer for his team, so too has Cork, who bowled unchanged for 20 overs from the Duck Pond End. After a loose opening spell, he precipitated a mid-afternoon collapse by taking 3 for 0 in 16 balls. In all, he and Illingworth bowled 48.5 of the 65 and a bit overs bowled.
However, despite this set-back, where they lost four wickets in the space of nine overs for only nine runs, South Africa then batted themselves into a position, almost safe enough for Cronje to contemplate all-out attack before the close.
Once again, the home side owed much to the tenacity of their opener, Gary Kirsten, who nudged and cut his way to 69, the second time he had passed fifty in the match. While the more glamorous strokeplayers appeared nonplussed and strokeless against England's provocative mixture of aggression and negation, Kirsten and the No 7, Shaun Pollock, kept the scoreboard ticking along after tea with a partnership of 66.
At one stage, during Cork's second spell, Atherton had a five-man leg- side field. He stationed two men on the boundary's edge, one fine, the other at deep backward square, and had a mid-wicket, a mid-on and a leg slip, cheekily posted to prevent any delicate touches. He then ordered Cork to direct his bowling accordingly.
If it did not possess the malevolence of leg theory used during the Bodyline series of 1932/33 - when the whole of Australia was awash with outrage - it did bring another curious decision from Cyril Mitchley. Having already spoken twice to Atherton and Cork about England's dubious tactics, he promptly called a wide when Cork again pushed one deliberately down the leg side to Pollock. It was a decision that Atherton immediately took the umpire to task over.
At the time, it appeared as if Mitchley had attempted on-field punitive action under the catch-all Law 42.2, which states that: "The umpires are the sole judges of fair and unfair play." Unfortunately in this case, the law gives him no such power, and sensing another controversy, Clive Lloyd, the match referee, quickly defused the situation by stating that the umpire had called the wide simply because he felt the batsman could not reach the ball.
If that is the case, England will be keen to see the same judgment applied to the increasing number of balls that will start to pass over their heads, should Alec Stewart and Atherton still be there at lunch today.
Australia in control, page 21
Port Elizabeth scoreboard (Fourth day; South Africa won toss)
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 428 (D J Cullinan 91, D J Richardson 84; D G Cork 4-113).
ENGLAND - First Innings
(Overnight: 250 for 7)
R C Russell c Cullinan b Donald 30
(169 min, 114 balls, 3 fours)
R K Illingworth c Hudson b Donald 28
(110 min, 91 balls, 5 fours)
P J Martin b Adams 4
(5 min, 6 balls, 1 four)
M C Ilott not out 0
(5 min, 2 balls)
Extras (lb9, w1, nb9) 19
Total (478 min, 120.4 overs) 263
Fall (cont): 8-258 (Illingworth), 9-263 (Martin).
Bowling: Donald 25.4-7-49-3 (nb6) (4-0-9-0, 6-3-4-0, 4-1-9-0, 6-1-18- 1, 5.4-2-9-2); Pollock 22-8-58-3 (nb3, w1) (3-2-5-1, 2-1-1-0, 5-2-16-1, 7-2-15-0, 3-0-16-1, 2-1-5-0); Adams 37-13-75-3 (7-2-16-0, 8-2-23-1, 2- 1-5-0, 12-3-28-1, 8-3-3-1); Matthews 20-7-42-0 (4-2-6-0, 5-0-14-0, 2-1- 3-0, 4-1-13-0, 5-3-6-0); McMillan 15-6-30-1 (nb1) (5-3-5-0, 7-3-13-1, 3-0-12-0); Cronje 1-1-0-0.
Progress: Innings closed: 1.10pm.
SOUTH AFRICA - Second Innings
A C Hudson c Russell b Martin 4
(8 min, 12 balls)
G Kirsten c Illingworth b Martin 69
(289 min, 176 balls, 8 fours)
*W J Cronje c Russell b Martin 6
(24 min, 18 balls, 1 four)
D J Cullinan st Russell b Illingworth 14
(80 min, 57 balls, 1 four)
J N Rhodes lbw b Cork 0
(13 min, 8 balls)
B M McMillan c Hick b Cork 1
(18 min, 13 balls)
D J Richardson c Russell b Cork 0
(7 min, 5 balls)
S M Pollock c Cork b Illingworth 32
(95 min, 74 balls, 4 fours)
C R Matthews c and b Illingworth 5
(20 min, 18 balls, 1 four)
A A Donald not out 12
(22 min, 13 balls)
P R Adams not out 0
(5 min, 3 balls)
Extras (b8, lb7, w1, nb3) 19
Total (for 9 dec, 295 min, 65.3 overs) 162
Fall: 1-6 (Hudson), 2-18 (Cronje), 3-60 (Cullinan), 4-65 (Rhodes), 5- 69 (McMillan), 6-69 (Richardson), 7-135 (Pollock), 8-146 (Matthews), 9- 160 (Kirsten).
Bowling: Cork 26.3-5-63-3 (nb4, w1) (20-4-44-3, 6-1-19-0, 0.3-0-0-0); Martin 17-8-39-3 (7-7-0-2, 3-0-14-0, 4-1-12-0, 3-0-13-1); Illingworth 22-7-45-3 (1-0-1-0, 21-7-44-3).
Progress: Lunch: 34-2 (Kirsten 15, Cullinan 1) 17 overs. 50: 98 min, 22 overs. Tea: 87-6 (Kirsten 41, Pollock 8) 43 overs. 100: 205 min, 46.4 overs. 150: 278 min, 62.3 overs. Declaration: 5.14pm.
Kirsten 50: 204 min, 135 balls, 8 fours.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
*M A Atherton not out 9
(37 min, 36 balls)
A J Stewart not out 8
(37 min, 21 balls, 1 four)
Extras (nb3) 3
Total (for 0, 37 min, 9 overs) 20
Bowling: Pollock 2-0-4-0 (nb1); Donald 2-0-9-0 (nb1); Adams 3-2-4-0; McMillan 2-1-3-0 (nb1) (one spell each).
Umpires: S A Bucknor and C J Mitchley.Reuse content