Hashim Amla scored an unbeaten 50 to steer South Africa to 121-4 at lunch on day four at Centurion.
South Africa began the day in a commanding position. The scorecard at the end of the first session will confirm that they remain in the ascendancy. The Proteas lead by 254 runs at present, and will have an opportunity to increase the pressure on England after the break.
That’s not to say the hosts have had everything their own way. Indeed, England were the side to draw first blood in the first half hour of play.
Sensing the significance of the session in the context of the game, James Anderson lifted himself to bowl at an uncharacteristic speed. He got the ball to swing substantially, and proved too good for Stephen Cook and AB de Villiers.
Cook will regret the shot that cost him his wicket. The ball wasn’t there to drive, and the opener succeeded in edging it wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Two balls later, Anderson got a delivery to swing back viciously and rap De Villiers on the pads. The Proteas skipper reviewed the umpire’s decision, but the review was in vain.
Anderson will cherish that scalp for a number of reasons. In the buildup to this Test, De Villiers criticised the England bowling attack and Anderson in particular for a lack of pace. Anderson must have taken note of those comments. The ball that got De Villiers in the second innings at Centurion was clocked at 140 km/h.
The dismissal of De Villiers also eliminated a potential threat. De Villiers boasts a reputation for scoring quickly, even in the five-day format. If he got going early in the first session, the Proteas may have extended their lead to 320 or more before lunch.
As it was, Anderson trapped De Villiers lbw for 0. The failure marked De Villiers’s third consecutive duck, and the first time a South African captain has recorded a pair since 1912.
Fortunately for the hosts, Amla and JP Duminy managed to repair the damage in the period that followed. Duminy grew in confidence as the session progressed, and even showed a willingness to take on off-spinner Moeen Ali.
The partnership yielded 57 runs before it was ended by one of England’s fiercest competitors. Ben Stokes slanted a delivery across Duminy, and found the edge. The South African threw his head back in disappointment before walking off the field.
Despite Duminy’s demise, the Proteas are in a good position. South Africa should look to accelerate in afternoon session. They will be aiming for a lead in excess of 350. England may battle to eclipse that sort of target.
The Proteas, however, may be shorthanded in the fourth innings. Kyle Abbott sustained a hamstring injury earlier in the contest, and may not be able to contribute. This would limit De Villiers’s seam bowling options to two. The spinners may need to take on a bigger workload, and play more of an attacking role.
That will encourage England. South Africa’s spinners haven’t been particular effective in this Test. Duminy was the only spinner to take a wicket in England’s first innings.
For ball-by-ball commentary, click below:
SA 1st innings 475 – Quinton de Kock 129 not out, Stephen Cook 115, Hashim Amla 109, Ben Stokes 4-86
England 1st innings 342 – Alastair Cook 76, Joe Root 76, Moeen Ali 61, Kagiso Rabada 7-112
SA 2nd innings 121-4 – Hashim Amla 50 not out, JP Duminy 29, James Anderson 3-21
South Africa lead by 254 runs