England on the verge of series victory despite bad light halting Zak Crawley’s charge

·3-min read

This series has happened in a hurry – and the decider has been no different. There were 17 wickets on the third day, when play finally began, and 13 more on the fourth.

The attempts made by the ECB to add an extra day after the death of the Queen seem a very long time ago. Three days was always going to be ample for these teams.

It is England who look likely to win this harum-scarum Test. They need just 33 more to complete a target of 130, and have all 10 wickets wickets to play with. That would complete a 2-1 series win, and six wins out of seven this summer, their most since 2004. They, and especially Zak Crawley, looked intent on getting the job done tonight, but the light beat them to it.

All this despite England experiencing a poor morning session, in which they carried a complacent air. First, they lost their last three wickets for just four runs in 16 balls to make 158 in their first innings, a lead of only 40. They had lost eight for 74, and it felt like an opportunity had been missed.

Then it took them 15 overs to break South Africa’s opening partnership, with the hosts reaching lunch on 70 for none, the lead 30. In the first two overs after lunch, Keegan Petersen was offered three boundary balls, and gobbled them up gleefully.

England tightened up, though, and were soon deep among this extremely callow South African batting lineup. Among the top five, only Dean Elgar (13 times) and Sarel Erwee (once) are Test centurions. Only Erwee, the man out before lunch (to Ben Stokes) has a half-century in the series. Ryan Rickelton and Khaya Zondo are playing the first match of the series, so is Wiaan Mulder, promoted to No6.

In that context, it was very odd that Elgar essentially walked when Stuart Broad piled through for one of his trademark lbw celebrappeal. Umpire Nitin Menon eventually gave him out, but only because Elgar was strolling off. The captain, and lynchpin of the order was surely worthy of one of the three remaining reviews. Replays revealed the ball was missing the stumps by some distance.

That sparked a collapse. Jimmy Anderson had Petersen taken at fourth slip, then Broad trapped Rickelton lbw (the review was wasted this time), and Robinson bowled Mulder and had Zondo lbw, both with inswingers. In an over that started before tea and finished after it, Stokes bowled Marco Jansen and had Kagiso Rabada caught at third slip. That was a relief, because an over before Stokes had overstepped when having Jansen taken at slip.

Ben Stokes took three wickets in the second inngings as South Africa collapsed (Getty Images)
Ben Stokes took three wickets in the second inngings as South Africa collapsed (Getty Images)

South Africa were 146 for eight and only some wriggling from Kyle Verreyne and Keshav Maharaj, with England setting attacking fields. With Broad bowling Maharaj, then Anderson having Verreyne caught and bowled, the wickets were shared around by the seamers and Jack Leach was not required.

Stokes was persistent, and found the important breakthroughs, but Broad was perhaps the pick of the bowlers. His three wickets took him past Glenn McGrath’s 563 into second place, among seamers, on the all-time Test list. Of course it is Anderson ahead of him.

Thankfully, England batted much better in the evening, chasing 130, than they had in the morning. With one innings remaining, this was a great moment for Crawley to make his first fifty of the summer. It was a damn good one, too, from just 36 balls and studded with handsome boundaries off front and back foot. Only after he reached fifty did he make a couple of errors. A powerful stroke was dropped at midwicket, then he edged between the keeper and slip.

Alex Lees looked less comfortable, and how different this session might have been if he had not been dropped by Jansen at fourth slip, off Rabada’s first ball. He played and missed often and was almost run out, but stuck with Crawley. Helping England to their target would be a huge boost for a struggling pair.