England were 172-3 and held a commanding 261-run lead at stumps on day three at Kingsmead.
For the third successive day, England have finished in a position of strength. The Proteas have threatened that dominance at times through the individual performances of Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel, AB de Villiers, and Dean Elgar. However, it’s been England who have performed better as a team. Indeed, England will be hot favourites to win from here and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
For the third successive day, Hashim Amla and his charges will look back and wonder what could have been. The Proteas sustained a big blow when Dale Steyn was forced from the field with a shoulder injury in the seventh over of England’s second innings. And yet the Proteas cannot use Steyn’s absence as the sole excuse for their substandard performance. Their batting let them down again, and the three dropped catches in England’s second innings hampered a fightback.
Dean Elgar scored 118 of South Africa’s 214 runs in the first innings. He showed plenty of determination over the course of his unbeaten knock. It was a performance that contrasted that of the other Proteas specialist batsmen, bar AB de Villiers. Had Temba Bavuma (10) or JP Duminy (2) occupied the crease for an extended period early on day three, South Africa may have posted a competitive total.
As it was, it was left to Elgar and Steyn to boost the hosts towards something defendable. The pair put on 54 runs for the eighth wicket. Sadly, despite their efforts, South Africa still trailed England by 89 runs at the end of their innings.
Stuart Broad struck with the second ball of the day when Bavuma played a delivery back on to his stumps. Moeen Ali claimed three wickets in the first session. Duminy and Abbott fell in quick succession, and then Steyn perished in an attempt to go over the top. When the new ball was taken, Steven Finn returned to finish off the South African tail.
The situation went from bad to worse for the hosts when Steyn, their spearhead and talisman, broke down in the fourth over of his initial spell. Steyn left the field to receive treatment for a shoulder injury. He attempted to return in the 21st over, but only managed to bowl three balls before he was off again.
While Dane Piedt picked up the wickets of Alastair Cook and Alex Hales, England continued to build on their lead. The injury-enforced absence of Steyn saw Amla managing his two remaining seamers, Morkel and Abbott, with more care. Amla chose to bowl Morkel in a crucial period before tea, and the ploy worked in the sense that the tall fast bowler created a couple of opportunities.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the fielders failed to make those opportunities count. Elgar dropped Nick Compton at slip and then De Villiers put down Joe Root before tea.
De Villiers missed another chance after the break, again off Morkel’s bowling. This time, however, the dropped catch didn’t cost South Africa any runs, as Morkel had Compton out the very next ball when the batsman edged a leg-side delivery to the wicketkeeper.
But that breakthrough did nothing to lift the fielding side. Root and James Taylor continued to churn out the runs. Root, who had been dropped on six by De Villiers, reached his half century with some ease.
England will look to ram their advantage home on day four. They already hold a commanding and potentially match-winning lead – South Africa have not scored more than 248 in 11 innings, and have passed 200 on only three occasions – but are evidently looking to post a target in excess of 350.
A declaration may be in the offing around lunch time, and from there, South Africa will have to scrap just to save the Test.
England 303 (1st Innings) – Nick Compton 85, James Taylor 70, Dale Steyn 4-70, Morné Morkel 4-76
SA 214 (1st innings) – Dean Elgar 118 not out, AB de Villiers 49, Stuart Broad 4-25, Moeen Ali 4-69
England 172-3 (2nd Innings) – Joe Root 60 not out, Nick Compton 49, Dane Piedt 2-65, Morné Morkel 1-19
England lead by 261 runs