England lifted themselves to 224-8 before the rain fell, and they will go into day four at Old Trafford with a 360-run lead.
They say catches win matches, and that cliche might well be the line that will prevent South Africa from having even an outside chance of winning this match.
England were on 159-7 when Dean Elgar dropped Moeen Ali on 15. At that stage, it could’ve been argued that the Proteas were still in it, full of confidence after removing England’s top-order at regular intervals throughout the day. It was a fairly straightforward chance for Elgar at slip, but he locked his elbows on the ground and it spilled out of his hands. Moeen and Toby Roland-Jones pushed on to a 58-run stand, and that could now be the game.
The highest successful run-chase at Old Trafford is the 294-4 England achieved against New Zealand in 2008. The Proteas still need two more wickets before they can even contemplate obliterating that record, though England might consider declaring overnight, given the poor weather conditions expected on days four and five.
South Africa started the day on 220-9, and only added six runs to their overnight total as they had to settle for a 136-run deficit. Though England have run away into a huge lead, take nothing away from the way the Proteas bowlers went about their work on day three. Morne Morkel (2-39) was excellent again, and accounted for Alastair Cook (10) and Tom Westley (9) before lunch.
Kagiso Rabada (2-37) and Keshav Maharaj (1-92) then contributed towards chipping away with the respective wickets of Keaton Jennings (18) and Dawid Malan (6), leaving England on 72-4.
England skipper Joe Root was the thorn in the Proteas side once more with a well-constructed 49, but the way he departed is only bad news for the South Africans, as a Duanne Olivier (3-38) delivery stayed low and crept under Root’s bat to crash on to the stumps.
Ben Stokes then departed for 23 thanks to a ripper from Olivier, and if there was any indication that the conditions out there were tough, then it was displayed in Jonny Barstow’s innings. He took 25 balls to get off the mark, but only lasted five balls more to walk for 10.
Moeen nearly dragged the first ball he faced on to his stumps, but it would race away for four in what was the first of his 11 boundaries as he crushed the South African spirits with eight fours and three sixes for his 59-ball 67. Roland-Jones helped things along with 11 as the lead coasted past 350, before Rabada had his second wicket as Roland-Jones skied one.
The Proteas will be forced to reflect on a large number of dropped catches, albeit difficult ones. But these are the half-chances that needed to be taken in order to remain in this contest, and they haven’t materialised. The rain fell with about 12 overs remaining in the day to leave England in a commanding position going into Monday.
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