AB de Villiers struck a beautifully crafted 97 to help South Africa set England a testing 197 on the fourth day at The Oval. Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, said yesterday that he had hoped his side could challenge England with a target of 220 plus, but a fine bowling performance from the hosts has limited that to something manageable.
Steve Harmison bowled with terrific fire in the morning session, and it was his key double-wicket burst to remove Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis which initially raised England’s spirits. De Villiers starred in a fine eighth-wicket stand of 95, but the last three wickets fell in four overs as England scented a morale-boosting win to end the series
Tea South Africa
194 and 265 for 7 (de Villiers 76*, Harris 12*) lead England 316 by 143 runs
A defiant fifty from AB de Villiers gave South Africa a fighting chance on the fourth day against England at The Oval. South Africa were reduced to 168 for 5 at lunch, leading by 46, but lost only two more wickets by tea to extend their lead to 143.
England’s disciplined bowlers took the initiative in the morning, however. Unlike yesterday, the conditions were dry and humid – ideal for swing bowling. And also unlike the third morning, Steve Harmison immediately found a probing line outside the off stump. Hashim Amla’s first shot of the morning was a loose flap to Broad’s final delivery of his overnight over, and though the batsman laughed at his frantic stroke, it represented his waning focus on what was a crucial first session for both teams. In the third over of the day, Harmison went wider of the crease and angled in another scorching short delivery that Amla could only fend behind. It was snaffled one-handed with a wobble by Tim Ambrose who lay flat on his back with relief. Outstanding though the catch was, especially considering he has a broken finger, it seems unlikely to be a career-saving one.
It has defied belief to watch Kallis struggle with such consistency this series, and his woes continued on the fourth morning. Harmison was relentlessly fast, forcing Kallis to fend him awkwardly out to point and keeping him well on the back foot. Anderson, meanwhile, initially struggled with his line but soon brought the prodigious swing under control. He couldn’t quite perfect his booming inswinger to Kallis, however.
For someone so out of form, Kallis craved a slice of luck – and he got a fat tranche on 9 when he drove Harmison low to Pietersen at mid-off. Yet the very next ball, England ended his series horriblis on 104 runs when he fended a sharp and rising delivery from Harmison low to Paul Collingwood at third slip. South Africa were effectively 16 for 4.
Pietersen maintained an aggressive, slip-heavy field. And once Anderson had finished his spell, Broad – who has struggled with his bowling in this series – replaced him. He too found booming inswing to Prince, the left-hander, who has lost some confidence since his earlier centuries in the series. Rarely moving his feet, reaching out dangerously for balls wide of his off stump, he drove loosely at a big inswinger from Broad before loosely clattering one out through extra cover.
And all the while, England’s best bowler was left relaxing in the slip cordon. After Harmison’s superb eight-over spell of 2 for 12, Flintoff was finally brought into the attack and his back-of-a-length pace was not to Prince’s liking. An edge fell short of Alastair Cook at point off Broad before Flintoff lured him into a loose cut, the ball flying to Andrew Strauss at slip. To have Flintoff coming into bowl at first or second change is a luxury England have not been afforded for far too long, which only emphasises the influence Harmison has on the whole balance of England’s attack. Flintoff grazed de Villiers’ visor with a fierce bouncer before shaving his back with another deadly straight one in the next over.
50 quiet minutes calmed South Africa’s fluttering nerves after lunch. They needed a grafting session if they were to challenge England with a testing total, and had two of their most nuggety of brawlers at the crease. Monty Panesar twirled away at one end while Broad and Anderson alternated at the other. Then captain Kev struck once more: an inspired change of bowling brought about Boucher’s demise when Anderson switched ends, and he found the shoulder of Boucher’s bat who fended him straight to gully. Andrew Strauss had had a quiet word with Pietersen in the preceding over, but whomever’s decision it was, Pietersen is having one hell of a first game in charge.
de Villiers is not one to lie down submissively and wait for the axe, despite the pummelling he had received from Harmison and Flintoff. A sublime cover drive got his feet moving, and he was content to work balls into the gap and rotate the strike. Morne Morkel coped well with Anderson – picking him up for four over midwicket with surprising timing – but remained rather hapless against Panesar. After surviving a confident appeal for lbw, he was caught by a diving Ian Bell at short-leg to one which brushed his globe. Or so it appeared to, at any rate. De Villiers’ patient fifty came with a fortuitous inside-edge, as England began to lose their focus.
Panesar was treated with disdain by de Villiers, a sublime player of spin, pulling him through midwicket with power before wellying a long-hop over the same region for another four. As tea approached, South Africa’s lead amounted to a useful but unthreatening 143. Another two hours of de Villiers, however, and the match’s conclusion is far from certain.
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