Advantage South Africa but first Test remains firmly in the balance

Joe Root and Ben Stokes are at the crease needing 205 more runs to pull of a miraculous victory

Vithushan Ehantharajah
SuperSport Park
Sunday 29 December 2019 11:07
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England's route to Cricket World Cup glory

England lunch having taken 50 off their target, leaving them 205 still to get to beat South Africa in the first Test. The odds, though, are still in favour of the hosts, who were able to remove both overnight batsmen. Their task of taking seven wickets is the easier of the two.

The good news for away fans is that Joe Root and Ben Stokes are in play. And for those who take confidence from coincidence, Stokes’ arrival to the crease came with 218 remaining. Exactly the same amount required when he entered the fray at Headingley against Australia in August. Anything close to the 135 unbeaten runs he picked up then would be very handy indeed.

The opening session of day four was relatively subdued in terms of runs: the first hour saw just 28 scored in 13 overs. That man again Vernon Philander, ball on a string, dried up one end and tested the outside edge of Rory Burns on a number of occasions. He conceded his first run off his 30th ball.

Similarly, it took Burns 34 minutes to add to his overnight 77 with a tap around the corner off Kagiso Rabada. But that does not tell even half the story.

Desperate for a run, he set off as soon as remade contact with the ball, failing to realise Rudi Second was lurking at backward short leg and had gathered the ball perfectly. What was not perfect was the throw: hurried and off-target, meaning that Burns not only avoided being run out, but was also able to make it to the other end.

Having already had one reprieve when he was dropped at first slip on 20, this second chance spurned should have been converted to his third Test hundred. Instead, on 84, he had a rush of blood to the head against Anrich Nortje and clothed a pull shot in the air to Rabada at mid on to make it 139 for two.

An over later, the same combination, albeit with roles reversed, almost had Denly caught on the hook. However, Nortje, out at deep backward square leg, was completely unsighted and only found the ball when it bounced about half a yard beyond the boundary rope next to him. It would have been a well-judged catch even if he had been able to pick it up tight off the bat.

This was one of two sixes for Denly off Rabada among four scoring shots that also included a four and a single. Yet his innings came to an end on 31 after the drinks break when he was adjudged LBW off his first-innings dismisser, Dwayne Pretorious. He called for a review, upon consultation with Root, but fell foul of the “umpire’s call” which found the ball’s projected path would have seen it clip leg stump.

Though the pitch seems to have quietened down – in part because the cloud cover over the last four sessions which has prevented the sun from baking it and enlarging its cracks – it still offers excessive bounce for those bowling with Hennops River behind them and irregular bounce for those steaming in from the Pavilion End. It was from the latter end which Root saw one trickle under his bat before wearing two in the hand from Nortje.

Stokes was almost undone by a delivery from Rabada which stopped and meant his defensive bunt passed the bowler on the full. Fortunately, it was just out of Rabada’s clutches.

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