South Africa took a hold on the third Test, and with it the series, reducing England to 126 for 4 at tea, a lead of just 43. The three frontline quicks all made inroads, after Mark Boucher’s feisty 40 helped the visitors to an advantage of 83, but in truth it was another feeble effort from England with a number of loose shots. Alastair Cook and Ian Bell were especially culpable as South Africa again worked as a unit to prey on their weaknesses.
After being rattled by Andrew Flintoff’s fire-and-brimstone performance yesterday evening, South Africa reasserted their authority even though the lead was restricted to double figures by James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom. However, in the context of Edgbaston 83 was still substantial and England couldn’t really afford more than a single loss while knocking off those runs. Two would have been manageable; three meant they were once again chasing the game. A target of 200 would be testing for South Africa, but that is a long way away. Pietersen remains to offer hope, but there is a huge amount resting on the out-of-form Paul Collingwood and the improving Flintoff.
The early overs from Morne Morkel and Andre Nel were wayward – although Nel was denied a plumb lbw first ball against Alastair Cook as the atmosphere bubbled up again – and it was Makhaya Ntini’s introduction in the sixth over that opened the door. His first ball was pulled away by Cook, and he also dropped his second delivery short, which Cook tried to help onto the leg side. Instead, he was defeated by the angle going across him and a top edge ballooned towards square leg. Boucher made a huge amount of ground and clung on a full stretch.
South Africa goaded Michael Vaughan, who was on a king pair, and although the England captain opened his account there was always a hint of desperation about his innings. He’d reached 17 at a run-a-ball when he played a compact-looking drive, only to watch it skim above the surface and be intercepted by Hashim Amla at a close mid-off.
Pietersen holds the key to the innings and he seemed to know it with the way he played himself in. He refused to chase Jacques Kallis’ wide outswingers although his first boundary was a full-stretch cover drive off Nel. Andrew Strauss was playing a compact innings, and he and Pietersen quietened the innings, until Morkel returned and produced a good ball, from round the wicket, to take Strauss’s outside edge.
The deficit was eventually erased by Pietersen and Ian Bell and for a while there was a false ease with the way they batted. However, in their current form the England top order are never far from giving a helping hand. Bell’s 199 in the first Test only raised the expectation of what he should be producing on a regular basis and he hasn’t backed it up. A few moments after a creamy straight drive, he lobbed limp pull behind square where Boucher took his second catch.
The electric atmosphere from the second evening when Flintoff tore into Kallis created a sense of anticipation during the morning. Ashwell Prince was a pivotal figure, an in-form batsman who was also capable of batting well with the lower order. But he didn’t last long, playing a rare loose drive at Sidebottom The tail was exposed and England were armed with a new ball.
Morkel provided solid resistance for half-an-hour, showing some of his batting potential which wasn’t evident in the opening two Tests, but his stay was ended by Anderson who trapped him in front of middle stump. Nel didn’t hold England up for very long, completely worked over by Sidebottom’s late swing. Sidebottom should have claimed the final wicket, but Monty Panesar dropped a simple chance at long leg as Boucher hooked straight towards him on the boundary.
Sidebottom didn’t even bother ranting at Panesar, instead just turning and grabbing his sweater. However, it didn’t cost England too many when Vaughan, not far behind Panesar as England’s biggest fielding liability, made plenty of ground at deep mid-off to hold a superb catch. They’d succeeded in keeping the lead under three figures, which gave their beleaguered batting line-up a chance of redemption. So far, they don’t look like taking it.
– About Cricket –
Sandesh Kumar Jaggi
Tags: Alastair Cook, andre nel, Andrew Flintoff, Andrew Strauss, Ashwell Prince, cricket, Edgbaston, England, Hashim Amla, Ian Bell, Jacques Kallis, Kevin Pietersen, Makhaya Ntini, mark boucher, monty panesar, morkel, sidebottom, South Africa