England stare down the barrel
England were left with the gargantuan proposition of needing to bat nigh on two days to save the fourth Test and with it victory in the series against South Africa after a pulsating day at the Wanderers.
The hosts, who are hunting the win that would hand them a 1-1 draw in a close-run series against Andrew Strauss’ new-look England, ripped out three wickets in the evening session on day three as the tourists stumbled to 48 for three at stumps.
England, tasked with batting in an extended evening session given South Africa’s declaration in the wake of the predictable afternoon shower in Johannesburg, were up against it immediately in their second innings when Alastair Cook could only edge a probing delivery from Morne Morkel to Graeme Smith at first slip.
Cook had scored just a single, with Jonathan Trott managing eight before he was squared up by a rapid Dale Steyn ball that took the edge and was comfortably caught by AB de Villiers at third slip.
It compounded Trott’s poor game with the bat, and after a brief spell off for bad light it got even worse when Strauss departed for 22.
Strauss’ dismissal, lbw aiming a drive at a Wayne Parnell ball that jagged back off the seam, was a hammer-blow, after he and Kevin Pietersen had looked capable of dealing with a lethal Morkel and Steyn.
Pietersen, who had played with authority and precision to belie his poor form so far in the series, was joined by Paul and Collingwood and the pair faced only five more balls before bad light permanently stopped play at 5.34pm local time.
The Proteas had earlier declared their first innings on 423 for seven, a total achieved largely thanks to the attacking instincts of Mark Boucher to compliment Smith’s hundred yesterday.
Boucher’s 95 thoroughly punctured England’s lingering ambitions of keeping pace with South Africa, hopes they had raised with three quick wickets in a fractious morning session.
Hashim Amla fell for 75 to the 10th ball of the morning, the right-hander fencing at Stuart Broad’s outswinger to be caught at the wicket having added only two to his - and South Africa’s - overnight score.
Jacques Kallis perished in the next over for seven, hurried by a Ryan Sidebottom delivery that James Anderson magnificently caught one-handed running in from gully.
A third strike, that of JP Duminy caught at slip pushing at a flighted delivery from Graeme Swann, left South Africa 235 for five and in danger of undermining their advantage.
Swann’s continual threat caused problems for de Villiers, first having him caught at leg-slip only for third umpire Daryl Harper to quickly reverse the decision despite the ball passing suspiciously close to both glove and bat.
Shortly afterwards, de Villiers then got in an ugly mess and padded up to a deceptive Swann off-break.
First impressions were that umpire Tony Hill had made the correct decision in sending the batsman on his way lbw, but Harper correctly reversed that call after learning the ball would have bounced over the stumps.
Boucher and de Villiers successfully shifted the momentum with quick running and positive strokeplay, the pair adding 50 crucial runs at a shade better than four runs an over as well as passing the 300-mark.
England were again on the rough end of the decision review system when Swann failed to review a lbw to Boucher that would have hit leg stump.
De Villiers was then given not out despite more England appeals after appearing to inside-edge a Sidebottom delivery behind.
Boucher went to a half-century the ball before lunch, after which de Villiers finally fell having reached his fifty.
Broad was finally rewarded when de Villiers attempted a pull and succeeded only in finding the hands of Collingwood at mid-on for 58, ending the pair’s 120-run alliance.
Boucher and Ryan McLaren continued to score freely, McLaren showing no signs of nerves on Test debut as he unfurled a picturesque drive off Anderson.
Boucher eventually fell five runs short of three figures sweeping the first ball of Swann’s spell to Trott at backward square-leg, shortly after which South Africa closed their innings.
It was the seventh time this series Swann had struck in the first over of a spell.