The Proteas are hanging on by a thread as they go into day five on 117-4, trailing England by 375 runs in the third Test at the Oval.
It was always going to be a gargantuan task surviving in excess of 120 overs, but the Proteas could barely last the evening session in south London, as the England bowling attack, spearheaded by Ben Stokes, wiped out the top order.
With rain disrupting half of the day on Saturday, the Proteas suddenly found a way back into the match, but they were thoroughly outplayed once again on Sunday, as England peeled off far more runs than they needed to, and it looks like they’re going to make it 2-1, with a fair amount of time to spare.
Dean Elgar is still there. He battled valiantly for his 72, and as Sky Sports pundit Michael Atherton put it, he’s ‘physically brave, technically challenged’. That sums up the way Elgar goes about his work, and he’s found some form in this second innings, despite taking a number of blows to his right hand. Once again, Temba Bavuma is still there too. On Saturday, Bavuma reached 1000 Test runs, doing it one innings quicker than Jacques Kallis. His steely resolve was apparent once again as he reached 16 off 59 balls.
England went into the day on 74-1, eager to push on and get what many thought to be around 420 late on in the second session. Joe Root decided to stretch their innings all the way to tea, and the result was a daunting 492-run target.
Root and Tom Westley’s 78-run stand was important for the English, as it carried them away from any potential upset, with both bringing up half-centuries. The damage was then done by Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, who scored 31 and 63 respectively at a rate of knots.
Keshav Maharaj was arguably under-bowled, accounting for both Root and Westley as they looked to go on the charge, before finishing off the innings to see off Bairstow and ending with figures of 3-50. Once again the swing proved a bit too much for the likes of Kagiso Rabada (1-56) and Chris Morris (2-70) to handle, and even Vernon Philander (0-54), who has seemingly recovered from his viral infection, moved the ball around more than he would’ve liked.
England amassed 313-8 and opted to declare when Bairstow holed out to long-off, giving the Proteas four sessions to battle it out.
And battle they did, as Heino Kuhn survived a couple of lbw shouts before Elgar was dropped in the slips from Keaton Jennings, with Stuart Broad and James Anderson asking plenty of questions. Two balls after that drop, Kuhn was gone, bowled by a Broad delivery that hurtled back off a good length and crashed on to the off-stump. Kuhn out for 11.
A watchful 10 overs followed as 26 runs were scored off them, but 21 of them were from Elgar. Hashim Amla, bogged down on five, tried to pull away from a shot at the last second, which only resulted in him edging it to Root. Toby Roland-Jones, who took a five-for on debut in the first innings, had his man again.
The Proteas were then left in utter disarray as two more wickets fell in the next Stokes over. Stokes got the ball to swing both ways, as a yorker angled in to Quinton de Kock to bowl him for five, before Faf du Plessis departed in what was a carbon copy of his first-innings dismissal.
The captain decided to leave one, which swung into him and it crashed on to his pads. Just like the first innings, when he scored one, he decided to review it, and once again it was crashing on to the stumps for Du Plessis to walk back for a golden duck.
And that’s when Elgar, and Bavuma once again, knuckled down and saw their side through to stumps. They survived for 21 overs in a 64-run stand, but they’ll have to do a lot more than that on day five to pull off the unthinkable.
Photo: Glyn Kirk/Getty Images