NOTTINGHAM – The Proteas know they are in a strong position heading into the fourth day of the second Test against England at Trent Bridge.
England’s target of 474 to win has never been achieved before in Test cricket. It’s a long, long way off, and batting for six sessions is a long, long time to spend at the crease.
The Proteas feel good about themselves. Statistics and the history of the sport are in their favour, but they remain wary of an attacking England batting line-up.
Targets of over 400 have only been successfully chased in the fourth innings of a Test four times – South Africa are one of the teams to have achieved that when they beat Australia in Perth in 2008, scoring 414.
The highest fourth-innings total to win a Test at this ground came in 2004, when England chased 284 to beat New Zealand, while the highest fourth-innings total was achieved in 1973, when New Zealand scored 440 but lost by 39 runs.
“According to stats, it shouldn’t happen,” Dean Elgar said in response to an inquiry as to whether England could win. “But in saying that, the game has evolved in such a big way.”
Indeed. The advent of T20 cricket has made batsmen feel invincible. There are a raft of new shots, the intent nowadays is to attack, and England’s line-up, particularly the middle-order, is set up to bat quickly.
Therein, however, lies opportunities for South Africa too – something they exploited brilliantly in the first innings when England were dismissed in just 51.5 overs.
Their scoring rate may have been above four an over, but in Test cricket, giving up a 130-run first-innings deficit is catastrophic.
“The wicket is maybe better to bat on, the odd ball is squatting a bit, and hopefully it can carry on squatting. It’s going to be hard work to get these 10 wickets,” Elgar said.
“But that’s perfect for us, the bowlers are looking forward to it, we don’t want an easy Test victory, it has to be hard work to win. We’re pretty excited for tomorrow.”
For all the thrills it gives viewers, England’s attacking style of batting is not something they’ll be looking for on day four.
Instead, said Moeen Ali, all eyes would be on Alastair Cook, who critically survived an lbw dismissal to Morné Morkel on review on Sunday night.
“Cooky is such a massive player for us, because he gets big scores, but also because he bats time,” said Moeen.
That is the strength of England’s top three, in fact, despite Gary Ballance’s technical issues. The rest are more flamboyant, including Moeen.
“We think we’ve opened up some cracks in their line-up, that’s something we can look at further into the series,” said Elgar.
As for the turnaround in the team’s play here after the defeat at Lord’s, Elgar said he’s not been surprised. “We’ve been playing brilliant Test cricket in the last year. We’ve been right up there, possibly the best side in Test cricket.
“It was very disappointing to see how it ended at Lord’s, but our ability to bounce back shows the massive character of a lot of our guys.”