South Africa on the front foot to win last Test

Young paceman Parnell called into attack / Green wicket requested
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The Independent Online

South Africa will take a series of desperate gambles this week. To try to draw a Test rubber against England that they expected to win comfortably they will adopt a new style of high-octane attacking cricket, they will risk preparing a sporting pitch which will encourage bowlers, they will change their team in one last-ditch pace onslaught but they will retain faith in their top-order batting.

The kitchen sink was not mentioned yesterday but the suspicion clearly was that they would throw that at the tourists if they thought it would help. South Africa, No 1 ranked side in the world barely a month ago, can hardly believe that they are 1-0 down to England going into the final match which starts at the Wanderers on Thursday, meaning that they cannot win the series.

They have had easily the better of two of the Tests, the first and third Tests, and were respectively 125 and 169 runs ahead, needing only one England second-innings wicket at both Centurion and Cape Town. Had the matches been timeless there could have been only one winner. As it is, England's sterling performance in Durban when South Africa were dreadful for a day has been the difference.

But Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, conceded yesterday that it would be England who had taken more of an edge from such draws. As he said, his side have no option but to take risks. Some of their actions in the past few days have smacked of a panicking side. One of their selections in the squad for the final Test match was the Pakistani leg-spinner, Imran Tahir, who was subsequently withdrawn because he was ineligible having not spent sufficient time in the country to qualify.

Although it was probable that Tahir would not have played and was selected with an eye on the team's forthcoming series in India, it was still indicative of a selection panel who were not thinking straight. They have finally ditched from the squad the iconic fast bowler, Makhaya Ntini just as he returned to form with five wickets for his provincial team, Chevrolet Warriors.

They will almost certainly call into their team for his maiden Test, the highly promising left-arm fast bowler, Wayne Parnell. But it is hardly ideal for a 20-year-old no matter how talented to be summoned for a match of such significance, especially as Parnell's lack of stamina has been well chronicled.

Arthur, however, was his usual engaging, direct self yesterday as he outlined what his side would have to do draw level. If they do not do it, then it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Arthur may be preparing them for the last time, though the imminence of their tour of India probably precludes it.

"We've got to win it, we just don't have an option," said Arthur. "The style of play we try to adapt to will be important. The brand will have to be a little bit more positive which is a good thing because I thought we attacked England well at Newlands in the last match. We attacked at exactly the right times and we are far more battle-hardened side now. Our guys generally play better when that's the case."

But it is not only the style of their cricket. South Africa need a surface on which victory for one side or the other is all but guaranteed. Since none of the last nine Tests at the Wanderers has ended in a draw this is highly probable, but Arthur is taking no chances. He openly admits that he has had a word with groundsman Chris Grant to ensure a result pitch. England, of course, did something similar at The Oval last summer but the idea of them saying so publicly is unimaginable.

If there is too much of the stiff upper lip about such matters in England, and the unsavoury suspicion that they knew it is sharp practice but the important thing is not to get caught, it is different here. South Africa prides itself hugely on being an open society now – which of course it was not for most of its existence before Apartheid ended two decades ago – and being open about such a trifling thing as a cricket pitch is straightforward.

"We might gamble on the wicket but we'll have to see what the weather brings," said Arthur. "We will wait until Wednesday before making our final shout about what we want. That is when we know what the weather will be for the five days. We have had a meeting, it's no secret and we'll have a look at how it pans out. You can take grass off but you can never put it back on."

The trouble with rigging pitches is that it can go wrong for the side doing the rigging if they get on the wrong end of the opposition seam bowlers. South Africa, however, may reckon that it really is time the hugely impressive Dale Steyn foraged among England's batsman for a huge haul of wickets.

Steyn took six wickets in the draw at Newlands compared to the eight taken by Jimmy Anderson. Steyn deserved better. It will remain one of the great mysteries of all cricket how he did not sweep England away with the second new ball at the start of the final afternoon. It was breathtaking stuff and in every spell in the match Steyn, slippery and quick, was menacing.

The hope is that Steyn, with the support of Morne Morkel's high bounce and Parnell's rapid left-arm stuff fired in from a different angle and, perhaps, swinging as well, will blast England out. They are risking that their top six will at last come good. Ashwell Prince, pressed into service as an opener and looking it, and the highly-rated J-P Duminy have under-performed.

"It's very disappointing," said Arthur. "We've played very, very good cricket. We've played good enough cricket for the series to be 1-1. I'm not going to say 2-1 because England have been very good too at times. It probably shows the resilience of this new England side under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. So hats off to them."

But for all his charming magnanimity, Arthur revealed something of the effect on South Africa of all this, something he will have to address in the next two days. They have drawn twice but they feel like losers.

"After Centurion it felt as if England had almost won and we were a little bit deflated at having got so close. You carry that edge into the next Test. I walked through to thank Andy Flower and happened to end up in the England dressing room at the time when the players arrived in there. The celebrations, rightly so, were as if they had won.

"Even though we'd probably had the better of the Test match our changing room was very deflated and felt as though it had lost. We've got better and better so hopefully we can pull out the stops at the Wanderers."

They are, as they say, gambling the farm on it.

* Wayne Parnell

*Born 30 July 1989, Port Elizabeth

*Club sides Eastern Province, Kent, Warriors

*ODIs 9 (debut v Australia, January 2009)

*ODI record 22 wickets at 21.00

*Best: 5-48 v England (Cape Town), November 2009. SA won by 112 runs