All the hype the series between England and South Africa was given a few weeks ago is finally coming to life. The final Test is building up for an epic finish – a fitting way to decide who is worthy of the number one berth. ANT SIMS reports from Lord’s.
For Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior, their task on the morning of day three was simple: shepherd time in the middle and chip away at the deficit as much as possible. It seems a simple task – ignore the bad balls, put away the good ones and once the new ball is taken, fight it out and fend it off. But Prior failed in his resistance and when Vernon Philander banged in the new ball, the England wicketkeeper suffered an inexplicable brain fade. He edged through to the slips, with Jacques Kallis taking a comfortable catch. It was a funny moment, considering it was just Friday that Philander insisted nicks and edges just didn’t seem to carry at Lord’s.
South Africa had won the first hour, but Bairstow, in his ever-persistent resilience, continued to prod, poke and occupy the crease. The Yorkshireman looked well-set, but as the tail started to fold around him, the pressure eventually got too much for the 22-year old and it was Morne Morkel who rattled his furniture to send him on his way. That didn’t stop the Lord’s crowd from acknowledging the youngster’s feat, though. As Bairstow made his way back to the pavilion, the Home of Cricket resonated with applause for the resilient redhead. Graeme Swann, with an unbeaten 37 and the rest of the tail, battled it out to erase the deficit and put England six runs ahead before they were all out for 315 and South Africa marched back to the middle.
The visitors’ openers flopped, however, with neither Alviro Petersen nor Graeme Smith managing to pass 25. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis then stepped in for an 81-run partnership, an impressive knock to add to their 65.11 average when batting together. (They scored 3,451 runs in 57 innings batting with each other prior to their knock today.)
Kallis then got caught in yet another controversial decision. He was given out leg-before, but immediately reviewed the decision, thinking that he’d hit the ball. Hot Spot showed a spot at the toe end of the bat, which the umpires deemed was the bat hitting pad. Later on, Snicko showed a noise, but the general consensus was that it was bat brushing against the pad. There was plenty to talk about and his wicket late in the day prompted South Africa to send in Dale Steyn as nightwatchman, with the visitors ending the day on 145-3. The Proteas’ assistant coach, Russell Domingo, is happy with the team’s position, but admits that there is still plenty of hard work left to be done.
“I think we’re in a good position, and if somebody told us at the start of the tour [that] this is where we’d be in the final Test, we would have taken it. We know there is a lot of hard work left tomorrow, but we’re happy with the position we’re in,” said Domingo.
South Africa don’t have to win the Test to snatch the number one ranking from England. All that’s required of them is to draw the match and win the series. Domingo, though, says that a defensive attitude can be dangerous and that the challenge is to win the Test.
“We don’t have a target in mind right now. We do want to score as many runs as possible and try and find a way to win the match. We always wanted to play to win the Test; if you play defensively and play for draws, you can put yourself in a dangerous position,” Domingo added.
There has been plenty of talk about the pitch, which has looked far livelier than the usual surface at Lord’s. With the sun having baked it for a few days, there is a chance that it could start to crumble, something which will be to South Africa’s advantage.
“The batsmen think the surface is quite slow, and I think if you sit tight on off-stump you might find a bit of inconsistent bounce on day five, because of the heat. Graeme Swann seems to have also gotten a few balls to bite, which is definitely a positive sign for us, because Imran (Tahir) can be so dangerous if he’s on a good surface,” Domingo said.
The series is starting to live up to the hype bestowed on it, and with the honours evenly poised, things can only get more interesting. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Graeme Smith hits out from the bowling England’s Stuart Broad (2nd R) during the third cricket test match at Lord’s in London August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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