JOHANNESBURG – England remain firmly in control of the third Test, so Joe Root won’t be overly concerned that more than half of Saturday’s play was washed out by rain.
There remains sufficient time to build an unassailable lead and get 10 South African second-innings wickets as the home team ended Saturday on 74/1.
There are 196 overs left in the match, and England will use at least 70 of those to build their current lead of 252 to somewhere around 500.
The Proteas could slow down that progress by taking wickets, but if the forecasts are right for the next two days and the sun indeed makes a more sustained appearance, it may flatten the surface.
Temba Bavuma, Morné Morkel and a somewhat revitalised Vernon Philander managed to limit some of the damage following that disastrous batting collapse on Friday.
Bavuma (52) played superbly in compiling an eighth Test half-century and in partnership with Morkel, they ensured the follow-on target was avoided as the Proteas reached 175 all out.
It’s doubtful Root would have enforced it anyway – it’s simply not the modern way – but it was a good psychological barrier for Bavuma and the tail to breakthrough and would have given the South African dressing room a small lift.
The innings was another display of Bavuma’s excellent qualities under pressure, which is quickly becoming a hallmark of his game.
In the process, he went past 1 000 Test runs, doing so quicker than Jacques Kallis by one innings – 35 to Kallis’ 36.
Five of Bavuma’s scores of over 50 have come when he’s arrived at the crease with South Africa’s total at less than a hundred, and while his overall Test average is 31.70, his average when arriving at the crease with South Africa’s total less than 100 is 42.40.
He clearly thrives in those difficult situations, although he’ll hope – along with Proteas supporters – that the team will be in a more comfortable position in the second innings and that if he has to bat, it’s only on Monday and then not for very long.
While Bavuma has shown he can operate at his best in difficult circumstances, Keaton Jennings has struggled. He did so again on Saturday, and should have been out three times before he’d reached 14.
Philander, who was discharged in the morning after spending Friday night in hospital on a drip, was still too much for Jennings to handle at the start of England’s second innings.
Twice he inside-edged the ball past the stumps and on a third occasion, Dean Elgar missed a catch at third slip.
Philander couldn’t bowl more than six overs and appeared to be struggling for large parts of that spell.
It was harder still against Morné Morkel, who bowled superb spell from the Pavilion End, accounting for Alastair Cook – for the 11th time – with gem of a delivery that pitched and straightened to clip the top of off-stump.
Coming into the innings, Jennings had been averaging 8.8 in the series, with Philander having dismissed him three times in 23 balls.
However, having seen off the two new-ball bowlers, Jennings found the going easier against Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris, the latter again struggling with his line and length.
Jennings hit two fours in three balls off Rabada, the second an excellent cover drive off the back foot, arguably the best shot he’s played in the series.
On the basis of his hitherto unbeaten 34, he looks to have cemented his spot for the last Test, as has Tom Westley, who was impressive in making 28 with some eye-catching straight drives.
South Africa will undoubtedly target the first hour on Sunday morning to see if they can make any inroads, which may keep the door open in terms of forcing an unlikely win.
However, the more likely scenario is that England build their lead and the Proteas will slow the game down.
The batsmen will be girding their loins then as they prepare to save the match.
It’s possible – if as the locals are predicting the sun comes out to make batting easier – but it will be extremely difficult.