Stuart Hess at Lord’s
LONDON - Morne Morkel and Keshav Maharaj led a stirring fightback by the Proteas on the fourth morning of the first Test against England but the variable bounce from a worn surface will make batting in the fourth innings of the match a nigh on impossible task.
Nevertheless the South Africans deserve credit for showing plenty of grit as England collapsed to 182/8 at lunch - their lead nevertheless a still substantial 279 runs.
Jonny Bairstow, who was dropped on five by Vernon Philander, is on 28 and Mark Wood, who’s faced just two balls has yet to score.
It was Morkel who set the tone for the South Africans with a wonderful spell from the Pavilion End in which he picked up the wickets of Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance.
Those two had resumed England’s second innings on 119/1 on Sunday morning, but batting remained difficult on a surface which is very dry and with a number of balls shooting through low.
Cook was well caught in the covers by Temba Bavuma, tumbling to his right, for 69. It had been hard fight for the former England captain, who was at the crease for just under four hours, in which he faced 192 balls and hit 10 fours.
Ballance, struggling with a technique which sees him stuck on the crease, got a lovely ball from Morkel that left him off the surface and which he edged behind giving Quinton de Kock a regulation catch. Morkel’s spell: 7-1-12-2, proved a challenging one for all of England’s batsmen, and the rest of the attack followed the example he set.
Keshav Maharaj after struggling in the first innings when Joe Root and Ben Stokes attacked him, found things much more to his liking in the second innings with the ball spinning out of the rough.
He accounted for Root with a lovely piece of work that included a delivery that ripped passed the right hander which was then followed by a ball that went on the arm which the new England captain misjudged, playing back and inside edging onto his off-stump.
Thereafter in a wonderful bit theatre, Kagiso Rabada trapped Stokes lbw for one. Rabada, who has been suspended from the second Test at Trent Bridge after swearing at Stokes when dismissing him the first innings, made sure everyone was aware he wouldn’t be saying a word as he celebrated covering his lips with his forefinger after rubbing his head as he Stokes walked off.
Moeen Ali was bowled by Maharaj, the ball ripping across the left-hander having pitched outside off-stump and going on to hit the leg-stump.
In between all that Bairstow was dropped off Maharaj’s bowling by Philander on the long-off boundary. It was a simple chance though it must be remembered Philander is nursing an injured right hand - on which he has some strapping - and he looked very nervous as the ball came toward him.
Had that catch been taken though, it really would have been game on for the South Africans. Bairstow launched a brutal counter-attack swatting Maharaj for three consecutive boundaries.
However his teammates couldn’t stay with him. Liam Dawson bagged ‘a pair’ when he was bowled by a full toss by Rabada, which Dawson didn’t see, while Stuart Broad was out first ball turning Maharaj to short-leg where Theunis de Bruyn took a very good catch.
England lost seven wickets for only 43 runs in 93 balls. But they have the runs on the board and on this difficult surface their advantage in that regard is a significant one.
Only England in 2004 - when they chased 282 against New Zealand - and the West Indies in 1984, who chased 344, have scored more runs to win a Test than South Africa will require when they eventually go out to bat a second time.