One of the common criticisms of England in this match has been that they have looked off the pace, and far less intense now that the series has been won. I’ve alluded to it myself too, and as today’s play proceeded, it occurred to me that I’m just not into this match.
It’s not because South Africa are plainly winning it, but it might be because of the lack of meaning in terms of the series result. Or perhaps it could be that if England aren’t up for it, why should anyone else be either? Whatever the reason, and despite the cricket being more than passable, it’s very much a background interest in the way that the first three Test were not.
Perhaps if there were a fifth Test to be played, as the ECB of the past said they wanted, then the jeopardy of the series would make it more required viewing than it is. Judging by the number of comments in comparison to normal, it could be the sense of it all being underwhelming is shared. Or it could be because these articles are crap.
That’s a pity though, for in Kagiso Rabada, we may be watching the emergence of a rare fast bowling talent. He destroyed the England middle order with some outstanding bowling. He is only 20, and as such there are good days and bad days, but he has pace, and the ability to move the ball. No England player looks entirely comfortable against him.
The difference between the first innings scores was 133, which represented something of a triumph for England after they’d sunk to 211-5 after a decent start. That they got as close as that was mostly down to first Ben Stokes, whose 33 runs had more effect in turning the tide than the runs scored suggests, and particularly Moeen Ali, who marshalled the tail (such as it is) wonderfully. He remains a frustration in that he needs to score more runs than he is, but when he’s in full flow there are few if any players more gorgeous to watch.
With the early loss of Dean Elgar, there was a small chance of putting South Africa under real pressure, but Amla and Cook saw it through to the early finish.
175 ahead with 9 wickets left on a pitch that is noticeably wearing and becoming harder to bat on is a position of complete control. Even another hundred runs would probably be too much, so unless there’s a miracle session for England tomorrow morning, they’re going to probably lose.
The one concern for the home team will be the fitness of Kyle Abbott, off the field with a hamstring injury. Down to two seam bowlers and without even the club medium pace of Van Zyl to call on, they’ll be twitchy if England keep them out for any length of time. Still, you’d back them to ensure it doesn’t matter.
Day Four discussion below.