First, the winning chances for South Africa in their final Test match of this England series at Old Trafford: ok, moving on quickly, writes GARY LEMKE.
With two days remaining and the hosts sitting on a lead of 360, this match already appears beyond the reach of the Proteas. Historically, Old Trafford has been kind to batsmen, and although no team has chased more than 300 to win a Test in the fourth innings, England hold the record with four wickets down.
However, this Old Trafford pitch might have been a par 320 for the first innings – in which England, at one stage 260-6 and then 312-9 – were allowed to skip to 362.
When South Africa went in to bat, no player could reach 50 as wickets tumbled, and they were all out for 226. Now, England find themselves 224-8 and with an overall lead of 360, which, in the context of this match, is too many for South Africa to chase.
The bookies didn’t over-react on Sunday night, leaving the visitors as 10-1 outsiders to win this match, the same odds they were offering after day two. Which suggests they, at least, felt that South Africa didn’t capitulate on day three.
Truth be told, they didn’t roll over, but the Proteas should have had England out for less than 200. However, as is so often the case when you’re up against it, little went their way. All of Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Hashim Amla and Heino Kuhn dropped catches – and when Moeen Ali was put down on 15, that summed up the miserable tour.
South Africa haven’t lost a Test series in England since 1998 and fans have dined out on Graeme Smith ‘retiring’ England captains like Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss. No chance that Joe Root is going to follow that trend, as his team have bossed the visitors for large parts of this series.
The Old Trafford pitch is becoming a minefield to bat and although there is plenty of rain forecast for Tuesday, the fourth day on Monday is going to be as tough as it gets, no matter how many more runs England add to their lead of 360, with Ali still at the crease.
How Keshav Maharaj didn’t get more from his 27 overs of left-arm spin than 1-92 is one of cricket’s oddities. He was bowling into the footmarks of the fast bowlers, with unsightly roughage outside the left-hander’s off-stump. And with seven England batsmen being left-handers, there always seemed the chance that this would be Maharaj’s day and give South Africa a glimmer of hope.
That he wasn’t able to get more than Dawid Malan’s wicket – though he deserved more – says it all.
Fortunately, England don’t have a left-armer to expose the area like Maharaj could, although the horse has bolted.
The ball to the right-hander is also playing tricks, Root’s dismissal by Duanne Olivier, when it kept low and cannoned into the stumps off the bottom of the bat, is an example. But as it is, South Africa have enough scoreboard pressure to have to worry about the ball doing things off a wearing pitch.
One can’t see anything other than an England win in this match, and that’s been the case ever since the Proteas bowlers, and negative field placements allowed Jonny Bairstow to take England to a first innings 362 with an intelligent innings of 99. That was 40 runs too many and as batting has become tougher, the wickets have fallen regularly.
There have been 28 wickets to go down in the first three days at an average of 29 runs for every wicket. And that ties in with Old Trafford’s Test history, where a fourth-innings chase of 300 is unheard of.
Results apart, Monday is probably the day that Heino Kuhn’s Test fate could be decided after four matches. He hasn’t looked convincing, and Aiden Markram is poised to take over at the top of the order. Theunis de Bruyn is another whose technique will be under scrutiny.
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