South Africa's Pieter Malan raises his bat after going to his 50 during day 4 of the second Test against England at Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town on Monday. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – Leaving the ball is highly undesirable in limited-overs cricket, but an art in the Test arena.

And it was the one skill that saw South Africa hang tough in the face of an almost insurmountable victory target of 438 on day four of the second Test against England at Newlands on Monday.

Even though the Proteas batsmen reduced the required margin to 312 at stumps, the word ‘victory’ won’t be part of their talk at this stage after reaching the close on 126/2 off 56 overs.

As relatively comfortable as the pitch played on a cool and cloudy Cape Town Monday, so it can change character and become harder to bat on if the sun shines brightly on Tuesday.

But credit to Pieter Malan, Dean Elgar and Zubayr Hamza for the manner in which they applied themselves after England declared on 391/8 in their second innings, which gave them a lead of 437.

Malan stood tallest, raising his bat on debut to end the day on 63 not out. The Cape Cobras opener knew what was required in familiar surroundings, and took blows to the shoulder, inside thigh and just about everywhere else to live to fight another day.

The fact that he only hit two boundaries in 193 balls showed how determined he was to hold on to his wicket, and he dug in to give the Proteas some much-needed stability upfront.

Elgar was slightly more aggressive, but after putting up a solid stand of 71 with Malan, the left-hander got out to part-time leg-spinner Joe Denly for 34.

Elgar reviewed the decision, but the replay showed a small spike on Ultra-Edge.

Hamza joined his franchise teammate, and would also have sought a morale-boosting score after missing out in the first innings.

He endured a barrage of bouncers from Ben Stokes, who employed a short leg and silly point to intimidate the young right-hander.

Hamza stood strong, and the England all-rounder eventually kicked the ground in frustration due to the lack of success.

But captain Joe Root eventually turned to veteran paceman James Anderson, and the 37-year-old delivered.

First Malan survived a few close shaves as Anderson found significant reverse swing, and then Hamza succumbed by leaving his bat hanging outside off-stump, having left the ball so well for 104 minutes.

Wicket-keeper Jos Buttler completed the catch, and suddenly the Barmy Army had something to cheer about again.

Malan and nightwatchman Keshav Maharaj held on at the end of an absorbing day of cricket, and the South Africans will go to bed with some hope of pulling off a draw – if not a world-record victory target of 438.

Stokes had set up that mark with a blistering 72 off 47 balls (7x4, 3x6) as England chased quick runs in the morning session.

He was well supported by opener Dom Sibley, who reached his maiden Test hundred and finished unbeaten on 133 (off 311 balls, 19x4, 1x6).

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