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Lord’s Test finely poised

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Jacques Kallis dismissal in the third last over of the day at Lords on Saturday has left the third and final Test firmly up for grabs.

It’s normally a more refined audience that witnesses play at this most storied of cricket’s venues.

There’s no fancy dress, no beer snakes or Mexican Waves. Their applause for the opposition is respectful too.

But the atmosphere that existed here yesterday, especially in the final hour, was more raw – very unlike Lord’s.

They’re willing England on here – desperate for their home-player, Andrew Strauss, to celebrate his hundredth Test with a series- tying win, desperate for England to retain their No1 status, desperate that they don’t lose a home series for the first time in four years.

That desperation was illustrated in the manner they roared their approval of third Umpire Rod Tucker’s agreement with compatriot Simon Taufel that Jacques Kallis was out lbw in the third last over of the day.

Kallis wasn’t happy, thinking he’d inside-edged the ball (it appeared that he’d hit his pad) which set the crowd off even more and halfway towards the Pavilion there were chants of “Cheer-io, cheer-io cheer-io!”

It was hard to tell if we were at the Headingley or the self-styled “Home of Cricket”.

England are doing more than hanging on in this match. Kallis’ wicket was an enormous blow in their favour so late in the day and puts a different complexion on the first session this morning. At one end they have a nightwatchman in Dale Steyn to aim for, who they’ll believe they can get rid of quickly, and that may open up the innings for them.

“We want to try and find a way to win the game,” said South Africa’s assistant coach Russell Domingo. “If you play defensively and play for draws you can find yourself under pressure, so we want to play positively and try and win the game.”

While Hashim Amla and Kallis were together South Africa had assumed control of the match as the pair counter-attacked in glorious fashion.

Having lost openers Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen in quick succession, the third wicket pair, with one partnership of over 300 already in this series, produced some intelligent shots to take the initiative away from England.

They put on 81 and had they still been batting this morning, and especially if they’d gotten through the first hour, England would have been deflated. However there is still plenty of life in Strauss’ men and as a result, this Test.

It will require some tough graft from the home team this morning because this pitch still looks an excellent one for batting. A couple of balls have misbehaved out of the rough for Graeme Swann, but no worse than anything the vastly experienced South African batting order have seen on their travels to the sub-continent.

Besides their courageous efforts with the ball in the final session, much of the reason for England still being in with a chance of winning this match, is down to young Jonny Bairstow.

Resuming this morning on 72, talk was of a maiden Test century, but he found scoring harder than was the case after tea on Friday afternoon.

South Africa deserve credit for changing their plan of attack to him.

Their strategy when he first came to the crease on day two was clear – aim for the head. However, it was a tactic which was over-used. With Bairstow initially swaying and ducking and as he grew more accustomed to what was coming his way he actually showed he could score off the short ball by pulling it to the fence.

“We maybe didn’t execute our plans well enough to him at the start of his innings,” Domingo acknowledged.

Yesterday, however, the South Africans targeted the top of off-stump, an obvious plan, but one they went away from in their attempts to assault the 22-year-old Yorkshireman.

Closing in on a century, the occasion, the venue too and the quality of South Africa’s bowling – Morné Morkel stopped him scoring for 14 balls – got to him, and he was bowled by a fuller and faster delivery from Morkel five short of a century.

His wicket came amid a spell of tough cricket from the tourists – Steyn and Morkel were excellent – in which they didn’t allow the English batsmen any freedom.

In fact when Bairstow was dismissed, South Africa’s lead was 43, but some lusty hitting from Swann and a gutsy 42-minute cameo from Finn ensured it was England who emerged with a minimal first innings lead.

The first session this morning will go a long way towards deciding the game’s outcome.

If South Africa go to lunch having lost just one wicket, they will have gone a long way towards ensuring only they can win this match.

Any more than that, though, and England could be eyeing up a series tying victory, in which case Lord’s will be roaring it’s approval in a manner very unusual for this most traditionally English ground.


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