So far, so so for England. At 2.03pm yesterday they began their attempt to save the third Test and retain their precious series lead over South Africa. Nearly four hours later they had lost three wickets and were left with 90 overs still to survive today. Or another 334 runs to win, which might be entering the realms of the fantastical as well as the mathematical.
South Africa, make no mistake, are favourites but England are not out of it. Not yet anyway. To escape from Newlands with a draw will require fortitude, luck, skill, concentration – all the components which helped them to regain the Ashes last summer and to draw the first match of this rubber almost three weeks ago. On this occasion it does not seem feasible.
Spice has unquestionably been injected by South Africa's scarcely concealed allegation that England tampered with the ball on the third day of the match to try to induce reverse swing. South Africa insist that they were merely concerned about the condition of the ball, a point they raised with the match referee, but were not implying that England had anything to do with it. Not much.
In the event the umpires decided that there was nothing untoward and the International Cricket Council declared the issue closed. Television cameras, however, clearly showed England's fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson rubbing his fingernails along the ball and Stuart Broad treading on it with his spikes. Reverse swing depends on one dry, rough side and one shiny side to work. That South Africa made 447 for 7 and were at one point 346 for two might seem to indicate that it did not on this occasion.
At the start of the tourists' second innings, following South Africa's declaration, they required 466 to prevail and take a series clinching 2-0 lead, 48 runs more than the highest total ever made to win a Test match. When Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook negotiated the new ball and went on to assemble a hundred partnership they might even have begun to dream the big dream. It did not last long.
Within three overs the openers had both been removed. Cook made a complete hash of a pull shot which steepled off the top edge and ended in Mark Boucher's gloves. Strauss was undone by a ball from the left-arm spinner, Paul Harris, which pitched in the rough and went from inside edge to pad before looping to Hashim Amla at short leg.
There were still plenty of alarms to come – as there will be today – and when Kevin Pietersen was given leg before to Freidel de Wet that seemed to be close to that. But as South Africa celebrated, Pietersen immediately called for a review of the decision by umpire Daryl Harper. The replay left no doubt: Pietersen had not so much edged the ball on to his pad as hit the cover off it.
It was a complete justification of the ICC's new system, which has come into its own in this match. The fact is that it is managing to reverse poor decisions made by indifferent umpires. But Pietersen wasted his reprieve. With 15 minutes of the day left he pushed across the line to Dale Steyn. There was no inside edge this time, there was no need to ask for a review. He was simply out. Put kindly, it was an inauspicious shot, put bluntly it was downright dreadful in the circumstances. Pietersen has had a miserable match and it is beginning to turn into a wretched tour for him. In this match he has been out twice to Steyn while facing only three balls from him.
England were left to contemplate the two elements that may provide the key to their fate today. They can only hope that the pitch, as it has done throughout so far, stays largely true. There is a bound to be some capriciousness in it but it may not behave like a fifth-day pitch, so well behaved has it been thus far. Their other concern, assuming they get that far, will be the second new ball which will probably be due shortly after lunch.
The batsmen at the wicket at the close were Jonathan Trott, who looked up for the fight, and Jimmy Anderson, who was sent in as nightwatchman and faced 15 balls with some apprehension. This has been an absorbing Test match between two well-matched sides and perhaps it would be no bad thing for the game if they were to go to the Wanderers next week level.
Naturally, England will think otherwise and it was to their credit that they stuck manfully to their cause in the morning. They began the day by being informed that South Africa would not be making an official report about the condition of the ball.
Graeme Smith, who had recommenced on 162, played some big shots to start with as though racing to a declaration. After he plonked the persevering Graham Onions down Paul Collingwood's throat at long leg, the innings lost its impetus slightly.
England slowed up the over rate to an unacceptable degree. Whereas at one time they were desperate to keep hands off the ball to ensure that one side stayed dry to give it the best chance of reverse swinging, they were now passing it through every fielder on its way back to the bowler. The referee may have a point to make about this, if not the other matter. But England can worry about that later.
Kevin Pietersen's average on this tour after his dismissal for 6 yesterday. His best score was 81 at Centurion.
Turning points: How the day unfolded
10.20am: England in the clear
South Africa announce that they will make no official written complaint about England's alleged interference with the condition of the ball. They say they will leave it to the ICC to decide whether to take further action.
11.07am: Anderson warned
Jimmy Anderson, having been implicated in the ball tampering row after being filmed scraping his finger across the seam, is warned for running on the pitch.
11.14am: Onions' slice of luck
Graeme Smith's long innings comes to an end when he hooks to long leg, only for replays to show that a no ball should have been called against Graham Onions for over-stepping.
12.30pm: England's go slow
Session ends with England, deliberately slowing down the rate, having bowled only 24 overs.
2.03pm: Long march begins
England start their second innings after South Africa's declaration, needing 466 to win in a maximum of 146 overs.
2.38pm: Cook's close shave
Alastair Cook just clears deep square leg when hitting Paul Harris for four.
4.16pm: Cook's even closer shave
Cook calls for a suicidal single only to see J-P Duminy's throw miss the stumps.
4.52pm: 100 up
Strauss cuts in the air past point for four to raise the century partnership.
4.58pm: South Africa breakthrough
Cook out with an ill-conceived pull shot.
5.12pm: End of the line for captain
Strauss out, caught at short-leg. Kevin Pietersen booed as he enters arena.
5.17pm: KP reprieved
Pietersen out lbw but saved by review.
5.46pm: Over and out for KP
Pietersen out lbw and this time there is no reprieve.
Cape Town scoreboard
Third Test (Fourth day of five); England require 333 runs with second-innings wickets remaining; England won toss
South Africa: First Innings 291 (Kallis 108, Boucher 51; Anderson 5-63)
England: First Innings 273 (Prior 76, Cook 65; Morkel 5-75, Steyn 4-74).
South Africa: Second Innings Overnight: 312-2 (Amla 95)
*G C Smith c Collingwood b Onions 183, 273 balls 25 fours
J H Kallis c Prior b Anderson 46, 96 balls 5 fours
A B de Villiers c Broad b Anderson 34, 49 balls 3 fours
J P Duminy c Prior b Anderson 36, 41 balls 4 fours 1 six
†M V Boucher c Bell b Swann 15, 10 balls 1 four 1 six
D W Steyn not out 1, 1 ball
Extras (b 8, lb 7, nb 2) 22
Total (7 wkts dec, 111.2 overs) 447
Fall: 1-31 (Prince), 2-261 (Amla), 3-346 (Smith), 4-376 (Kallis), 5-401 (de Villiers), 6-442 (Boucher), 7-447 (Duminy).
Did not bat: M Morkel, P L Harris, F L de Wet.
Bowling: Anderson 22.2-1-98-3 (5-0-8-0, 3-0-21-0, 3-0-21-0, 5-1-24-0, 6.2-0-24-3), Onions 22-4-87-1 (nb2) (4-1-13-0, 3-1-22-0, 3-0-9-0, 3-1-7-0, 6-1-12-1, 3-0-24-0), Swann 37-5-127-3 (15-2-46-1, 7-2-24-0, 11-1-34-1, 4-0-23-1), Broad 22-4-79-0 (8-2-20-0, 3-0-17-0, 4-1-15-0, 7-1-27-0), Pietersen 3-0-6-0 (one spell), Trott 5-0-30-0 (1-0-1-0, 4-0-29-0).
England: Second Innings
*A J Strauss c Amla b Harris 45, 107 balls 7 fours
A N Cook c Boucher b de Wet 55, 116 balls 7 fours
I J L Trott not out 24, 46 balls 3 fours
K P Pietersen lbw b Steyn 6, 22 balls
J M Anderson not out 0, 15 balls
Extras (b 1, lb 1) 2
Total (3 wkts, 51 overs) 132
Fall: 1-101 (Cook), 2-107 (Strauss), 3-129 (Pietersen).
To bat: P D Collingwood, I R Bell, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, G Onions.
Bowling: Morkel 12-3-26-0 (5-1-9-0, 4-0-16-0, 3-2-1-0), Steyn 14-3-30-1 (6-1-17-0, 6-2-10-0, 2-0-3-1), De Wet 8-4-19-1 (3-2-5-0, 5-2-14-1), Harris 13-2-43-1 (8-2-30-0, 5-0-13-1), Kallis 4-1-12-0 (one spell).
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) & A L Hill (NZ).
TV replay umpire : Aleem Dar (Pak).
Match referee: M Erasmus.Reuse content