Pieter Malan produced a rock-solid performance to set South Africa up for a tense final day as the home side ended the fourth day of the second test on 126 for two in their second innings against England at PPC Newlands in Cape Town on Monday.
The hosts though will be gutted losing Zubayr Hamza (18) in the penultimate over in the day, edging Jimmy Anderson (9-4-18-1) to Jos Buttler behind the stumps after adding 52 for the second wicket with Malan in 100 minutes and off 154 balls. South Africa are still 312 runs away from a highly unlikely victory and survival seems the order of the fifth day tomorrow.
“The fight that was shown today was special. It’s his first test match but he’s played like he has a lot under the belt. He knows his game from the amount of first class runs he has got. He has got good technique and played the situation very well,” said batting consultant Jacques Kallis at the end of the day about Malan.
“I’ve seen some strange and weird things happen in this game and all three results are still possible. It’s going to be a tough ask for us to chase this down if we are brutally honest but it is not something we are ruling out. We will bat till tea and see what happens from there,” added Kallis about the victory target.
Malan was a solid brick wall, spending 220 minutes at the crease, facing 193 deliveries for his unbeaten 63 which included just two boundaries. After England had declared their second innings closed shortly after lunch on 391 for eight, Dean Elgar (34) and Malan began the mammoth task of saving the test first and foremost. The pair started well, taking their team to the tea interval on 46 without loss.
“He knows how to switch on and switch off. I am very impressed with the mental capabilities that he’s got, and he got that from all the first class games that he’s played and he knows his game,” said South Africa’s greatest allrounder about Malan.
The session after tea had the England bowlers toiling and searching for a wicket but Elgar and Malan brought up the first opening stand half-century in a year for the Proteas taking their tea-time total of 46 to 71 before the gentle legspin of Joe Denly (8-0-26-1) made the breakthrough. Elgar edged the ball through to Buttler behind the stumps but Elgar immediately reviewed the decision, however, replays showed the feintest of edges and Elgar had to go after spending 108 minutes at the crease.
“There is a lot of rough for the spinners even though the pitch has flattened out but there is no reason why we cannot bat the day out and if we bat really well then I think we can get close. Things have to go our way and someone will have to play a special knock, so it is not unachievable,” noted Kallis.
Hamza and Malan batted slowly and cautiously, trying to take their side to the close without any further alarm until Anderson, coming back into the attack with four overs left in the day, changed that, bringing Keshav Maharaj (2 not out) to the crease as nightwatchman. Maharaj faced nine deliveries, keeping Malan away from any potential harm.
“Everyone has to chip in, we have memories from Perth and Johannesburg and they are confident that we can pull off something special. Just a pity we lost a wicket at the end there but Hamza got a good one. So as long as we keep making England fight for our wickets and we don’t give them away who knows what can happen tomorrow,” said Kallis.
The day started with England resuming from their overnight second innings total on 218 for four with Dom Sibley well set on 85 and Ben Stokes walking out to join him after Joe Root (61) and nightwatchman Dominic Bess (0) were removed in the last half hour of play on the third evening.
“He took the pressure off me and made it really easy for me to go at my own tempo. He kept saying don’t change what you’re doing so just play the way you play,” said Sibley about approaching his maiden test hundred with Stokes bashing it about.
The intent was clear from the England camp as Stokes blasted his way to a 47-ball 72, smashing seven boundaries and three sixes along the way and it was his partnership with Sibley of 92 that allowed England to cash-in with 132 runs in the morning session, going to lunch on the fourth day on 375 for seven.
“We knew with Stokes that he was going to come out and play and hopefully one would misbehave in the rough if he tried to go early on and that was the thinking unfortunately we put him down when he was in his 20’s so that let us down,” said Kallis.
Sibley played brilliantly for his maiden test hundred, batting all of 497 minutes, facing 311 deliveries and striking 19 boundaries and a six. Sibley kept the scoreboard ticking while Jos Buttler (23) and Sam Curran (13) tried for quick runs. Keshav Maharaj (43-9-160-2) added the wicket of Curran to that of Stokes while Kagiso Rabada (20-3-69-2) accounted for Ollie Pope (3). Anrich Nortje finished as the pick of the bowlers, claiming 3-61 while Vernon Philander, playing in his last test at Newlands, went wicketless.
England’s declaration came just 20 minutes after the lunch interval, closing out on 391 for eight, and overall lead of 437, setting South Africa a highly improbable target of 438.
“The wicket at the end of the day has given us a massive boost, but we are going to have to work really hard tomorrow to get the remaining eight wickets. The first two day’s was difficult to bat on but hopefully the crack can start misbehaving tomorrow and nip in towards the stumps,” said Sibley about the conditions.
England had won the toss on Friday and elected to bat first, finishing off the first day’s play on 262 for nine. The visitors could only add a further seven runs to their total on the second morning, being bowled out for 269 with Pope top-scoring with an unbeaten 61. Stokes made 47 while Sibley (34), Joe Denly (38) and Root (35) all made starts without converting.
Rabada was the pick of the bowlers, claiming 3-68 in 19.5 overs while Vernon Philander (2-46), Anrich Nortje (2-56) and Dwaine Pretorius (2-26) provided good support. The South African batting line-up then collapsed to 40 for three with Malan (5), Hamza (5) and Faf du Plessis (1) all back in the hut.
But Elgar (88) and Rassie van der Dussen (68) rescued the home side with a 117-run stand for the fourth wicket. Once Elgar and Van der Dussen departed, the rest of the side fell away, being bowled out for just 223 on the third morning with James Anderson claiming his 28th five-wicket haul, ending with 5-40 while Stuart Broad (2-38) and Curran (2-39) chipped in.
The pitch then seemed to flatten out as England, who claimed a first-innings lead of 46, pushed forward with Zak Crawley (25) starting briskly before Sibley and Denly (31) added 73 for the second wicket. Despite the briskness of the Sibley and Stokes partnership, the third wicket stand between Sibley and Root of 116 set the tone for the third day as the South African bowlers toiled with limited success, despite the two late strikes from Nortje.