Late wicket gives England a No 1 hope

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Superb Test match is wide open after England bowlers grab three victims to set up two gripping final days

This has been a superb Test match. It may get better yet. Two wonderful sides, both desperate to be No 1 in the world rankings, have spent three days in the final contest of the series knocking spots off each other.

In the wake of that other super-lative sporting festival across town, it has been a veritable bonus. England finished the third day with three wickets in the bag, trailing by 139.

There are no signs of demons in the pitch, indeed quite the reverse since it still looks angelic to bat on, but batting fourth anywhere is a tricky proposition and England will not want to chase any amount of runs against the clock.

With two days left it is still anybody's game, though the tourists need only to draw to win the series. Towards the end of another riveting day, they lost Jacques Kallis after he had shared a partnership of 81 with Hashim Amla.

Neither looked in the slightest bother and had they stayed together to the end of play, England may have suffered a recurrence of the nightmares provided by their unbroken partnership of 377 at The Oval.

Kallis became the third lbw victim of the innings with fewer than 15 minutes left and a review could not save him. Ominously for England, Amla completed his fifty in the day's last over. Steadfastly though England have performed in this match after the shambolic period of preparation which was dominated by the Pietersen Affair, they have never quite dispelled the simple suspicion, pervasive since the first match, that South Africa are the better team.

Both combatants will be drained when this match ends tomorrow. They have given their all at a rarefied level. There have been mistakes and it has not been a game marked by high scores. But no quarter has been lightly given, no advantage easily gained.

England gained a slender first- innings lead of six precious runs, which at 54 for 4 a day earlier had seemed remoter than certain individuals in their dressing room. Jonny Bairstow was the main architect of the recovery and it was a sad moment when he fell five runs short of a maiden Test century shortly before lunch.

The natural sympathy for his disappointment was leavened by reasoning that there would be plenty of centuries for him at this level to come, some of them at Lord's. But sport does not always work out like that and Bairstow and everybody else in the ground would have given much to see him get there.

It was a remarkable innings considering the circumstances in which it started, that he was the man brought in for Pietersen and that the bowling was of extremely high quality. He started the third day as he had finished the second, judging every ball strictly on merit, leaving when he could, hitting the rare bad ball. Only when he approached the landmark did things change and that was as much to do with South Africa's exemplary bowling as it was with Bairstow's approach. Throughout the match, Morne Morkel has been splendid and he gave Bairstow absolutely nothing to hit.

For 14 balls, which must have turned into half a lifetime, Bairstow left, defended or was denied in the field. Something, everyone knew, had to give and then Bairstow went across his stumps and tried to flick a ball to leg, a shot which may be seen many times in the years to come.

In his anxiety, he missed and was bowled. The applause was all for him as he made his way up the pavilion steps but it had somebody else in mind.

That left England perilously short of their opponents' total but they promised that their challenge in this match was not built on sand and proceeded to show it.

The loss of Matt Prior, playing loosely as soon as the second new ball was taken, followed by Bairstow and Stuart Broad might have left a serious deficit. But Graeme Swann, playing with rare common sense, found determinedly studious support from Jimmy Anderson and Steve Finn. England were in the game.

It was felt that the first hour of the match's third innings were important to its eventual course, but then every hour has been significant. There was little movement for England's bowlers and when there was Jimmy Anderson did what he has for most of the summer and went past the bat without touching it.

Broad (left) is off the pace. He looks slower than he was because he is slower than he was, and this has to be addressed soon.

If South Africa's bowlers have generally been the more hostile in the past month it is because they are faster. Even Steve Finn, who has been the fastest around in his time out of the team in the past year, has looked slower.

A solid start was on the verge of becoming something much more dangerous when England won two lbw appeals in three overs. Graeme Smith was ensnared by a beautiful piece of bowling from Graeme Swann a ball after hitting a rare off-side boundary. It was much straighter and Smith, attempting to sweep, was unbalanced.

Alviro Petersen, moving across his stumps, was hit on the front pad and all but walked before the appeal was done. But there had been a crucial moment two balls before when Amla had flicked a short ball down the leg side. Prior, leaping to his left, could not hold on to the catch.

England have to catch everything from now on to stay in this and then bat for their lives to win it, level the series and stay No 1.

It will be one of their greatest victories.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines