Three Moeen Ali wickets on the stroke of tea have left England on the brink of victory as the Proteas go into tea on day four on 182-6.
When Temba Bavuma fell on the last ball before lunch, the Proteas were on 40-3 and the writing was on the wall. But Amla and Du Plessis looked to have kept Proteas fans dreaming in what was an excellent period of counter-attacking batting with a crucial 123-run stand.
Amla fell just on the stroke of tea, however, thanks to a successful England review, in what was a crucial breakthrough. That broke the shackles for the hosts. Quinton de Kock and Theunis de Bruyn fell two balls later, and it leaves the Proteas in a perilous position, with South Africa still trailing by 198 runs going into the final session.
Some plays and misses early on in the second period left the Proteas wondering whether they would last the session, but the pair started to sweep Moeen Ali with ease, and Amla found his rhythm with a neat collection of cover drives and flicks off the pads as they started to frustrate the likes of Stuart Broad and Toby Roland-Jones.
It was the kind of knock the Proteas craved so desperately from their most experienced batsman, as the previous three innings saw Amla depart cheaply, all by newcomer Roland-Jones. It was just a matter of time before he returned to form after his pair of fifties in the first Test, and 14 boundaries later, Amla propelled himself to 83 off 159. But the hard work became undone in a couple of overs, making an already unlikely drawn series a near-impossible task.
Du Plessis took a while to get going, but decided to go about his work in counter-attacking fashion too, and he’ll go into the final session on 60 and will likely take the attacking route with the batsmen falling around him. A highest successful chase ever at Old Trafford and the eighth-highest of all time is looking like a forlorn task.
The Proteas lost Dean Elgar (5) and Heino Kuhn (11) early on in the morning session, as James Anderson and Stuart Broad managed to get plenty of movement off the surface and got the ball to swing late. But after Bavuma departed for 11, thanks to a feather of an edge and as the ball got a bit older, Amla and Du Plessis were able to settle down and pick off the boundaries with England opting for a very attacking field.
Amla’s dismissal was crucial as he moved across the stumps and missed the ball, which prompted a huge shout from Moeen and Co. The umpire was having none of it, but a successful review carved the Proteas middle-order open. An over after he dismissed Amla, Moeen was at it again as he forced a low edge from De Kock, with Alastair Cook taking a decent low grab for the wicketkeeper to fall for one. De Bruyn then got caught in two minds and all he could do was give Ben Stokes another low catch at slip.
The visitors are chasing 380, and with only four wickets left in the bank on 182-6, England will feel confident of wrapping this up in the final session on day four in Manchester.
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