South Africa 208 for 6 (de Kock 63*, Philander 27*) trail England 499 for 9 dec by 291 runs
Dom Bess became the latest of England’s young bloods to leave his mark on South Africa but the old foe of bad weather, coupled with some much-needed defiance from the home batsmen (plus a few dropped catches), prevented the tourists from maximising their advantage on day three in Port Elizabeth.
With Bess producing his most impressive display in an England shirt to secure a maiden Test five-for, the threat of the follow-on loomed large for South Africa. But they were able to recover from a position of 109 for 5 thanks to Quinton de Kock‘s third half-century of the series, as well as 136 balls of dogged resistance from the nightwatchman, Anrich Nortje.
De Kock was unbeaten on 63 at the close, having put on partnerships of 45 with Nortje and an unbroken 54 with Vernon Philander. He might have been dismissed three times by spin but on each occasion Ben Stokes was unable to hold on to sharp chances at slip – and with another 26 overs lost due to rain, England’s prospects of capturing a series lead before the teams move on to Johannesburg looked to have taken a hit.
South Africa’s captain, Faf du Plessis, pronounced before the third Test that his team had made “huge steps in the right direction” against England, following a run of five consecutive defeats. While du Plessis could not extricate himself from his own run of bad form, falling to Bess for the second time in as many innings, the bloody-minded efforts of de Kock and, in particular, Nortje, gave his side something to rally around.
Although there was no doubting England were on top, they seemed likely to find themselves in a battle against time, the elements and an unforgiving pitch – with de Kock’s rearguard blocking their path to enforcing the follow-on, and 92 runs still needed for South Africa to take the decision out of Joe Root’s hands.
The morning session could scarcely have gone better for England, with Bess striking three more times to claim each of the five South African wickets to have fallen, before a delay of more than three hours began to impinge on hopes of a positive result in this match. When play was able to resume in mid-afternoon, de Kock succeeded in seeing off the fiery Mark Wood as he and Nortje combined to frustrate England further.
South Africa’s wicketkeeper produced a number of fine strokes during a counterattacking innings, although at times he lived on the edge. Root might have removed him twice, on 30 and 56, with Stokes the culprit on both occasions. Another chance came late in the day, when de Kock was cramped by Joe Denly’s legspin and top-edged a cut low to Stokes’ right – but again England’s most-reliable catcher could not hold on.
Stokes did have a more familiar impact with the ball, although the fact England waited until the 61st over to turn to his bowling raised questions about what might been after the allrounder proceeded to dismiss Nortje with his 10th delivery.
Nortje had already benefited from lapses in the field, Root putting down a simple chance that would have given Bess his five-for. Having already demonstrated his ability with the bat in South Africa’s victory in Centurion, Nortje dug in manfully in the face of Wood’s 150kph/93mph hostility – a half-chance to Ollie Pope at short leg the closest Wood came to getting his man. By the time Stokes drew an edge to slip, Nortje had played by far his longest first-class innings and kept England at bay for more than three hours.
Such fighting spirit seemed to be lacking as South Africa set about their attempts to build a convincing first-innings reply. Resuming on 60 for 2, after Bess had struck twice on the second evening, they lost Dean Elgar in the fourth over of the day, smartly taken by the diving Pope at silly point as the ball ricocheted off bat and pad.
Du Plessis seemed intent on taking the attack to England’s rookie offspinner, a 22-year-old playing in just his fourth Test, twice leaving his ground to stroke fours through mid-off. But Bess changed his line of attack to over the wicket, found some drift and grip and another inside edge plopped safely into the hands of Pope, at short leg this time.
South Africa had been left in a mess against Bess, whose fourth wicket ensured career-best figures. He was not to be denied a fifth – becoming the youngest England spinner to take a Test five-for since Pat Pocock in 1968 – as Rassie van der Dussen dragged the ball into his stumps to give the unexpected tourist and unexpected starring role. But the rain and de Kock meant the day was not simply about Bess.
‘India top order should bat 20 overs’ – Smriti Mandhana
From the outside, it looks like India’s women’s team has a problem with its middle order. The team is gearing up for the T20 World Cup – the preparation included playing the favourites Australia and England recently, and a theme that emerged from that tri-series is that they are prone to collapses.
Playing on one of the grounds which will host those World Cup matches in a few days’ time, India were on course for victory in the final, until they lost seven wickets for 29 runs. The collapse began with Smriti Mandhana‘s wicket in the 15th over and led to a stinging critique from former India captain Diana Edulji, who called the players “lazy”.
On Saturday, Mandhana admitted the collapses – there was one against England as well, when India went from 78 for 3 to 99 for 9 – were a cause for concern but that there was a way around it.
“The middle order could definitely improve,” she said. “There are some things we still have to figure out with our batting and we are trying hard to do that.
“The best way to support the middle order is for the top order to bat 20 overs. I think we need to try and bat long as a top four. We must try not to get out in the 16th or 17th over and the problem will be sorted if we can stay until the 20th over.”
India do contain players capable of pulling this off. Mandhana herself is a prime candidate alongside the captain Harmanpreet Kaur and the two teenagers Jemimah Rodrigues and Shafali Verma. This too was readily apparent in the tri-series when India chased down a target of 174 against Australia.
Australia had put up what seemed like a winning total riding on Ash Gardner’s 93 off 57 balls but India were able to cruise the chase, losing only three of their wickets. Mandhana held the innings together with a steady half-century while Verma (49 off 28) and Rodrigues (30 off 19) had the liberty to clatter the ball to all parts. That game exemplified why Australia coach Matthew Mott rated India as having the most feared batting line-up in the world.
“We can be very unpredictable on our day, but I’d like to agree (with Mott),” Mandhana said in response. “We have some great batters and our order is very balanced. The top four or five are quite settled. We’ve had the same top five for the last year and that’s been a good thing for us.”
‘Still want to prove myself in Tests’ – Moeen Ali
Moeen Ali has restated his desire to return to Test cricket in the future, saying he has “huge ambitions” to prove himself in the format. Moeen did not make himself available for next month’s tour of Sri Lanka but said he was keen to be involved in next winter’s five-Test World Test Championship trip to India.
Moeen’s last Test appearance was in August, for the opening encounter of the 2019 Ashes. He subsequently took time away from the game to deal with burnout, making his England return in the third ODI against South Africa last week.
He was named Player of the Match in Durban on Friday as England levelled the T20I series, and spoke afterwards about his plans for a Test return.
“I do want to be part of that [tour to India] for sure,” Moeen told the BBC. “I still have huge ambitions for Test cricket.
“It is still the best form of the game and the hardest. I want prove to myself and to other people that I am not a bad Test player.”
England play two Tests in Sri Lanka in March, before taking on West Indies and Pakistan during their home summer.
Moeen, who lost his central contract in October but could have been obliged by the ECB to make himself available for Sri Lanka as part of his white-ball deal, will next head to the Pakistan Super League, where he has been signed by Multan Sultans.
“I am going to give myself a bit more time,” he said of his break from Test cricket. “I want to make sure when I come back I am ready and fresh.
“I want to keep enjoying my cricket and get that hunger back because I feel I lost that completely. I had no interest in my batting and bowling and when you are in that situation there is no point playing.
“I definitely feel like I am getting there and not far [away]. I want to give myself extra time and know when I come back I will have to fight for my place.”
Moeen played once during the ODI series against South Africa, taking 1 for 41 and then hitting the winning runs in Johannesburg. He showed signs of getting back to his free-scoring best in the second T20I, cracking a whirlwind 39 off 11 balls to fire England to a score they narrowly managed to defend in a dramatic final-over finish.
“It was amazing to contribute and finally feel like I am back for England,” he said. “I will not take it for granted.”
Recent Match Report – New South Wales vs Victoria, Sheffield Shield, 19th Match
New South Wales 4 for 201 (Patterson 54) trail 7 for 431 (Gotch 100*, Maddinson 95, Dean 71) by 230 runs
Victoria declared on 7 fo 431 shortly before lunch moments after Gotch had brought up three figures. The New South Wales openers departed after a half-century opening stand but Kurtis Patterson, playing his first Shield match since October, and Moises Henriques both looked in fine form as they added 102 deep into the final.
Then Parker, who had bowled nicely in his first spell, returned to manufacture back-to-back breakthroughs. His maiden first-class wicket came when he slid a delivery across Patterson as he came down the pitch, the ball grazing the edge before Gotch completed the stumping. In his next over he then benefited from some significant fortune when Henriques bottom-edged a pull into his leg which ballooned to slip.
Daniel Solway and captain Peter Nevill saw out the rest of the day but New South Wales have a lengthy tail so there was considerable work to do.
Gotch and Travis Dean had resumed with Victoria well placed on 5 for 318 and carried their stand to 150 in 50 overs with Dean making his highest first-class score in 21 innings after retiring hurt yesterday following the blow in the box from Trent Copeland.
Dean eventually fell when he top-edged a sweep off Steve O’Keefe while Gotch continued to carefully accumulate towards his hundred having twice fallen shortly previously in his career. The century arrived from 241 balls with a single off Liam Hatcher.
Armed with a new Duke ball, Victoria’s seamers found early movement – Gotch had a difficult time behind the stumps – but it took a while to break through as Daniel Hughes and Nick Larkin settled in. Scott Boland claimed the first breakthrough when he trapped Larkin lbw then Will Sutherland, who began with four consecutive maidens either side of a brief rain delay, produced an excellent delivery to beat Hughes’ inside edge.
Patterson, recovered from the quad strain which has disrupted his season, was soon into his stride has he played elegantly off front and back foot while Henriques continued the form he showed before the Big Bash. However, just when they were taking the competition leaders into a position of parity, Parker popped up to produce a moment he’ll remember.
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