|Fourth Test, Johannesburg, (day three of five):|
|England 400 (Crawley 66; Nortje 5-110) & 248 (Root 58, Hendricks 5-64)|
|South Africa 183 (De Kock 76, Wood 5-46)|
|South Africa require 466 to win|
England are closing in on a series victory after setting South Africa an unlikely 466 to win the fourth Test in Johannesburg.
Mark Wood completed a five-wicket haul as the home side were bowled out for 183 before the lunch break on day three.
England had an advantage of 217 runs, but declined to enforce the follow-on, instead opting to bat the Proteas out of the match on a pitch starting to show signs of uneven bounce.
Dom Sibley made 44 in steady progress to 92-2, after which a cluster of wickets fell amid England’s desire to push on after tea.
Captain Joe Root played a number of one-day strokes in his 58, sharing stands of 46 with Sam Curran and 34 with Wood.
Root was dismissed off the last ball of the day, his side 248 all out and now with two full days to take the 10 wickets that would seal a 3-1 series win – only their second overseas success in four years.
South Africa’s hopeless situation was compounded by the loss of opening bowler Vernon Philander, who pulled up with a hamstring injury in what will be his final Test before international retirement.
Not only that, but Philander became the latest player in this series to be sanctioned by the International Cricket Council, being handed a fine of 15% of his match fee and one demerit point for using “inappropriate language” after dismissing England’s Jos Buttler on day two.
England nail it down
In reality, England’s decision to bat again ensured much of the day would lack drama and instead be about the tourists moving to a position from which they were happy to bowl again.
With the Proteas 88-6 overnight, England may have still been entertaining the follow-on when Philander fell to Chris Woakes in the first full over of the day, only for a stand of 79 between Quinton de Kock and Dwaine Pretorius to dispel that notion.
Therefore the match continued, but the contest was put on hold.
It is to South Africa’s credit that England’s second innings was not a complete procession. Every time Zak Crawley, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope threatened to dominate the bowling, they were dismissed.
At one stage, England lost three wickets for 24 runs, but it was of little consequence as Root and Curran pushed South Africa’s target to what would be the highest successful run-chase in Test history.
Given the choice, England probably would have liked for Joe Denly and Buttler to make big scores, only for both to fall for eight. Their long-term Test futures will continue to be the subject of debate.
De Kock holds up England
Without De Kock’s classy 76, South Africa would have been routed in their first innings.
After Philander miscued Woakes to mid-off, De Kock – an untroubled spectator in South Africa’s collapse on Saturday – found a willing ally in Pretorius.
With Pretorius playing drives for his 37 and De Kock scoring through the off side, England, for a brief moment, may have been hoping they had a frontline spinner to turn to.
As usual, Stokes provided the inspiration, finding extra bounce to have Pretorius well caught by Crawley at gully.
Wood, who took three wickets on day two, returned to bowl De Kock with a wonderful delivery that nipped back to shave the bails at 90mph.
When Dane Paterson was caught behind having a swipe, Wood had 5-46, his second five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
Extending the lead
With England in no hurry, the spell between lunch and tea was turgid fare, headlined by Denly being bowled through the gate by Dane Paterson.
Denly has done a steady job in England’s top order and his leg-spin will be useful on the March tour of Sri Lanka, but when Rory Burns is fit again there will not be room for one of Denly, Sibley and Crawley in the top three.
Stokes’ 28 came from only 24 balls, but any promise of pyrotechnics ended when he edged Beuran Hendricks to slip. Similarly, any chance of Pope lighting up the evening was dismissed by a nick off Anrich Nortje.
The match situation was perhaps ideal for Buttler to end his barren spell, yet he looked woefully out of sorts before playing away from his body to be caught behind off Nortje.
What followed was Root, Curran and Wood trying to swipe, flick and heave as many runs in as little time as possible, the highlight being Root’s glorious pick-up over mid-wicket for six off Pretorius.
The last action of the day was also the most impressive, Faf du Plessis flying to his right at gully to hold Root in one hand and give left-armer Hendricks a five-wicket haul on debut.
‘England have dominated’
England bowler Sam Curran told the TMS podcast: “It’s a great position to be in at the close, maybe we would have liked to have been batting tomorrow, but the lead is nice. It was nice to have a bit of fun out there with Rooty. Woody with five wickets, what a man, the team is so happy, he’s one of the great guys in cricket. For him to come back from injury and get five is amazing.”
England assistant coach Paul Collingwood told the TMS podcast: “Jos Buttler is an X-factor player. If our batting line-up does the job, then he can go out there and be positive. Sometimes that’s not going to come off. We know how much of a world-class player he is. We know he can adapt to Test cricket and he will win games for us. He has done in the past and players like that you have to back them to the hilt.”
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “It has been a good winter for Root. To come through all that madness of the first Test to be in a situation where they will win this series 3-1, with a pretty young team, is a very good effort indeed. You feel this is a team that is playing as a unit together. They understand each other.”
Former England batsman Michael Carberry on The Cricket Social: “It has been a good Test match. England have dominated. Being hyper-critical, they would have liked someone to get three figures. Joe Root’s tactics have been spot on. Mark Wood has been brilliant to watch.”
England bowler Steven Finn: “Coming into today, you thought could De Kock and Pretorius hang around long enough to frustrate England? The rest of the lower order fell away meekly. With the bat, it was important that England didn’t lose early wickets. Even though they have lost wickets, the day has been all England’s.”