The two sides traded jabs throughout the day, with neither side able to land the killer blow, either through traditional methods or by biting their opponent’s ear off.
Sometimes a performance leaps out from the television (or from out in the middle if you’re a proper commentator, as opposed to dossing about on the internet) and grabs the attention. Sadly today didn’t see any of them. England’s tiny lead was built on a number of small, tenacious innings rather than anyone really taking the game by the scruff of the neck. Jonny Bairstow failed to reach the Test hundred that seemed only a matter of time, with the high quality bowling of South Africa pinning him down completely in the 90s, while Graeme Swann made a crucial 37* to edge the home side into the lead. South Africa’s bowlers plugged away without ever truly hitting the heights on a pitch that rarely offered much, as did England’s after tea.
The player of the day would probably have to be Hashim Amla, calmness personified as England huffed and puffed their way through the final hour. His performance in the first session tomorrow will probably decide the result.
We love Matt Prior unconditionally, for several reasons: his fine beard, his aggressive batting, his excellent keeping and, perhaps most of all, the fact that he’s the only thing keeping Iron Gloves Kieswetter away from the Test side. And yet the two key errors on the third day both came from the Flying Beard. Firstly, he played a ridiculous shot to the very first delivery bowled with the crucial second new ball and edged straight to Kallis at slip, immediately reducing England’s ambitions from a notable first innings lead to mere parity. And then, as England desperately sought wickets in the evening session, Prior dropped a relatively simple legside catch against Amla. The wicket of Petersen two balls later rather glossed over the fact that Amla is already well on the way to batting South Africa out of sight.
We’ve been saying that the next session is the key one non-stop since Thursday morning, but the first one on Sunday really is. South Africa have a slight advantage but with the pitch looking flatter than Abi from the Zutons they won’t want to set England anything less than 350. England yet again need early wickets to keep a lid on South Africa or they may find themselves with too much to do to salvage the number one ranking.