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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own