Zak Crawley ended a disappointing summer with a flourish as England moved to the brink of an LV= Insurance Test series victory over South Africa at the Kia Oval.
After 16 innings without a half-century, Crawley’s 57 not out means what might have been a potentially tricky fourth-innings target of 130 in a low-scoring third Test should be safely negotiated on Monday.
England reached 97 without loss – they need just 33 more runs for a 2-1 series win – before bad light brought an early finish 23 minutes before the scheduled 7pm close, prompting some boos in the crowd.
After South Africa collapsed from 83 for one to 169 all out, with three wickets apiece for Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, Alex Lees was dropped from the first ball of England’s chase by Marco Jansen.
While Lees grew in fluency and ended the day on 32 not out, the out-of-form Crawley helped get England off to a flyer, riding the bounce in Kagiso Rabada’s second over, dispatching him for back-to-back fours.
He needed just 36 balls to reach his 50 and there was a sense he could get England over the line on Sunday night – and bring about effectively a two-day Test after Thursday’s washout and Friday’s play being called off in memory of the Queen – but England, to their chagrin, were kept waiting.
No creeping for Crawley
Make no mistake, England’s resolve on Crawley has been tested throughout this summer. There have been 10 single-figure scores since his century against West Indies in March. But Stokes has repeatedly championed the opener, who hit the ground running on Sunday evening with 10 fours as England cantered along at almost six an over. Their disappointment at coming off with the finishing line in sight was palpable but Crawley’s innings has broken the back of the chase. In turn, he might also have guaranteed himself a place on the plane to Pakistan for England’s next Test series assignment in December.
No end in sight for Broad or Anderson
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) September 11, 2022
One day after careering to 36 for six, South Africa looked relatively comfortable in reaching 83 for one and a lead of 43. But after attempts to change the ball were dismissed, England turned to Anderson and Broad after lunch, and the veteran pair came up with the goods to tip the balance back towards the hosts. There was prodigious swing on offer and arguably England’s two finest fast bowlers cashed in as they have done on so many occasions, with Dean Elgar, Keegan Petersen and Ryan Rickelton dismissed. That ultimately knocked the stuffing out of South Africa, as they were unable to recover.
View from the dressing room
With the weather set fair for Monday, it seems only one of the most unlikely comebacks in Test history can stop England from sealing a 2-1 series win and a sixth Test success of the summer at home – something they have not done since 2004. South Africa may be happy just to make a few inroads into England’s batting.