The fate of Kevin Pietersen's first Test as England captain now lies in the hands of himself and his fellow batsmen. Yesterday's fourth day of the fourth Test ended with the match beautifully poised. A masterful 97 from AB de Villiers, and his 95-run eighth-wicket partnership with Paul Harris, allowed South Africa to ask England to score 197 if they are to complete a morale-boosting victory.
In the eight balls bowled before a heavy shower brought a premature end to proceedings England failed to score a run but they should get home today. The pitch continues to offer bowlers some assistance but it is still good to bat on, as De Villiers showed.
Strange things, however, can happen to a batting side on the final day of a Test, especially if a couple of wickets fall in the opening hour. If that happens, a total of 197 begins to carry far greater gravitas. South Africa started the Test with the series won and an end-of-term state of mind but they would like nothing better than to finish a historic tour on a winning note.
Pietersen could be the key figure in England's run chase and it will be intriguing to see whether the extra responsibility of winning a game as captain affects his batting. There was no sign of it in England's first innings, in which he scored 100. The Test has already shown that Pietersen has a wonderful script writer and it would surprise few if he was there at the close, scoring the winning runs in a nail-biting finish.
England appeared destined to chase a small fourth-innings total when Monty Panesar had Morne Morkel caught at short leg in the middle of the afternoon. The wicket fell with the South Africans leading by just 98 runs, and it left De Villiers with Harris and a couple of proper tailenders to play with. Harris is an inelegant cricketer and his style has led to him receiving plenty of criticism from England supporters this summer, but he is a competitor and he hung around for an hour and a half, adding 95 valuable runs.
The pair played superbly, taking every run and frustrating the hosts hugely. De Villiers remained calm, trusting his partner and striking boundaries at regular intervals. His composure disappeared after Harris, on 34, edged Broad to slip. De Villiers was on 97 at the time and deserved a seventh Test hundred, but in a frantic attempt to reach three figures he danced down the pitch to Panesar, missed a flick to the leg side and was bowled. Had he batted for another 20 minutes and scored 20 or 30 more runs South Africa would have been favourites.
The De Villiers and Harris partnership tested Pietersen more than any other, but he has coped with his captaincy debut extremely well. In selection he was decisive and positive, and he has made good decisions in the field. He continues to work well and closely with his bowlers.
Much, however, has gone his way and nowhere was this better highlighted than in the 13th over yesterday. In the last decade Jacques Kallis has been one of the most prolific batsmen in Tests. He is the sort of player an opponent cannot afford to drop, yet Pietersen did just that when Kallis drove Stephen Harmison to his left at mid off. One piece of hard-handedness might have undermined three good days.
Had Michael Vaughan made the error a week ago Kallis would probably have gone on to post a double hundred, but the world is currently a wonderful place for Pietersen so Harmison, with his next ball, produced a lifter that clipped the outside edge of the South African's bat and carried low to Paul Collingwood at third slip. Everything was back on track.
The dismissal of Kallis gave Harmison and England their second wicket of the morning – the excellent Hashim Amla, on 76, had earlier flirted with a short ball and edged a catch to Tim Ambrose. During the 17 overs and five balls that were bowled on Saturday, Harmison was disappointing, as was James Anderson, but the former fully deserved his success yesterday. In eight hostile overs he returned the superb figures of 2 for 12.
England's day improved further when Andrew Flintoff had Ashwell Prince caught at slip for 24, a wicket that left South Africa, when their first-innings deficit of 122 was accounted for, on 39 for 5. To have Harmison and Flintoff firing together for England is another piece of good fortune for Pietersen.
When England were at their most dominant, under Vaughan in 2004 and 2005, he was able to call on the pair every week. It was a strong position for a captain to be in because he could replace one enforcer with another at hourly intervals, a relay that meant there was potentially no let-up for the batting side at one end for the entire day. But the last time Vaughan had Harmison and Flintoff together in the same Test side was at Lahore in November 2005. Since then injuries to each have prevented them from working together.
Pietersen showed that his time in charge will not just be a touchy-feely love-in when he removed Harmison swiftly from the attack after four mediocre post-lunch overs. He then displayed humility by accepting that his decision to bowl Anderson at the Pavilion End was a mistake, moving him back to his favoured end after one over.
The move brought immediate reward when Anderson took the wicket of Mark Boucher with his first ball at the Vauxhall End. Instead of sprinting towards Collingwood, the catcher, Anderson ran to congratulate Pietersen, the captain who had allowed him to have a say in where he wanted to bowl. Bowlers like a captain who includes them in decisions like this, and Pietersen's ever-improving relationship with his attack considerably increases the chances of his time as captain being a success.
Shot of the day
AB de Villiers has the rare talent of being able to drive balls along the ground through the covers even when they are not half-volleys. Such shots require exquisite hand control. James Anderson found out De Villiers has this in abundance.
Ball of the day
No batsman enjoys facing a bowler who generates steep bounce and this is Stephen Harmison's greatest asset. The dismissal of Jacques Kallis highlighted this. Kallis, a modern-day great, was unable to control a Harmison lifter and edged a catch to slip.
Moment of the day
Kevin Pietersen showed he will change a plan quickly if it is not working. He bowled James Anderson at the Pavilion End, but the bowler did not like it so changed after one over. Anderson took a wicket with the first ball at his preferred end and ran straight to thank Pietersen.
South Africa won the toss
South Africa – First innings 194
England – First innings 316 (K P Pietersen 100)
South Africa – Second innings (Overnight Friday: 37 for 1)
N D McKenzie b Broad 29
89 min, 58 balls, 4 fours
H M Amla c Ambrose b Harmison 76
131 min, 99 balls, 14 fours
J H Kallis c Collingwood b Harmison 9
89 mins, 57 balls, 1 four
A G Prince c Strauss b Flintoff 24
93 min, 53 balls, 4 fours
A B de Villiers b Panesar 97
235 min, 170 balls, 12 fours
+M V Boucher c Collingwood b Anderson 12
64 min, 44 balls, 1 four
M Morkel c Bell b Panesar 10
26 min, 22 balls, 1 four
P L Harris c Flintoff b Broad 34
88 min, 74 balls, 3 fours
A Nel not out 3
15 min, 8 balls
M Ntini c Collingwood b Broad 2
9 min, 9 balls
Extras (b 6, lb 8, w 5, nb 3, pens 0) 22
Total (425 mins, 99.2 overs) 318
Fall: 1-0 (Smith), 2-82 (McKenzie), 3-119 (Amla), 4-138 (Kallis), 5-161 (Prince), 6-201 (Boucher), 7-218 (Morkel), 8-313 (Harris), 9-313 (de Villiers), 10-318 (Ntini).
Bowling: Anderson 22-2-85-2 (nb1) (3-1-11-1 5-1-20-0 6-0-16-0 2-0-6-0 2-0-11-1 2-0-9-0 2-0-12-0), Harmison 25-6-84-2 (w5) (3-0-13-0 6-0-21-0 8-5-12-2 4-1-9-0 4-0-29-0), Flintoff 18-4-53-1 (nb2) (2-0-11-0 3-0-18-0 6-3-5-1 4-1-13-0 3-0-6-0), Panesar 17-5-37-2 (1-1-0-0 3-1-8-0 1-0-4-0 7-2-15-1 1-0-1-0 4-1-9-1), Broad 16.2-4-44-3 (4-2-10-1 5-1-12-0 4-1-12-0 3.2-0-10-2), Pietersen 1-0-1-0.
Progress: Second day close: 37-1 (McKenzie 9, Amla 26) 9 overs. Third day: Rain delayed start until 11.29am. 50: 60 min, 14.2 overs. 100: 107 min, 24.1 overs. Rain stopped play 12.51pm. Close: 110-2 (Amla 71, Kallis 2) 26.5 overs. Fourth day (min 98 overs): 150: 145 min, 45.4 overs. Lunch: 168-5 (De Villiers 15, Boucher 1) 55 overs. 200: 288 min, 66.2 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 241-7. 250: 350 min, 81.1 overs. Tea: 265-7 (De Villiers 76, Harris 12) 85 overs. 300: 396 min, 92.1 overs. Innings closed 5pm.
Amla's 50: 91 min, 64 balls, 10 fours.
De Villiers' 50: 148 min, 112 balls, 6 fours.
England – Second innings
A J Strauss not out 0
5 min, 6 balls
A N Cook not out 0
5 min, 2 balls
Total (0 wkt, 5 min, 1.2 overs) 0
To bat: I R Bell, *K P Pietersen, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, +T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, S J Harmison, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling: Morkel 1-1-0-0, Ntini 0.2-0-0-0.
Progress: Fourth day: Bad light stopped play 5.16pm.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S J Davis (Aus).
TV replay umpire: P J Hartley.
Match referee: R S Madugalle.
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