Avoiding defeat will be the priority with fate of tour at stake
An entire series may depend on what happens in Centurion today. England know they must somehow survive to sustain a realistic hope of winning the series against South Africa.
The match so far has been of manic swings, mostly towards South Africa. The tourists need one last tilt in their favour today to secure the draw they need.
England's nightwatchman, Jimmy Anderson, said after holding out, if in a perpetual state of alarm, for the final few balls last night: "It's a big day for us, similar to Cardiff in the Ashes. We pulled through that and saw what happened after that so if we do get through it will put us in a good position for the rest of the series."
The first hour of the final day will be significant and may decide the destiny of the contest. "That harder ball does do some unusual things but if we survive the first hour we have got a good chance of seeing it through," Anderson said.
For some reason probably known only to physicists with a degree in groundsmanship, the hard new ball has a tendency on the Centurion Park to shoot through low, giving the batsman scant chance to keep it out.
But then again, the odd one can lift menacingly as England's captain Andrew Strauss found to his cost in the closing moments last night as Morne Morkel persuaded the ball to lift off a length, move fractionally away and take the edge. It was a snorter and after a long day in the field it was lethal.
Hashim Amla, who made 100 for South Africa after they slipped to 46 for 4, confirmed Anderson's diagnosis. "It was diffiult early on because we had lost some wickets. But AB De Villiers and I put together a partnership and the pitch seems to be getting better. It probably played as well as it has done in the match. I expected a lot more up and down bounce. Once the ball got old it didn't react as much."
Anderson did not wholly rule out England's prospects of winning the match. "We can reassess at lunch and again at tea but survival will be our priority," he said. But what of the vagaries of the pitch. "It does things when the ball is new," he said. "Nothing at all seems to happen with older ball. We have to put the wicket out of our mind." Out of mind is not out of sight.
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