ENG v SA 2nd Test day 3 Trent Bridge
The morning started with both teams knowing what was needed.
England needed to induce a catastrophic collapse from the visitors in the mold of the 2015 Ashes test. South Africa needed only to prevent that happening. Of the two, du Plessis' boys were likely the happier by lunch.
Anderson and Broad opened the bowling and in spite of a few moments of concern, the two overnight batsmen continued more or less untroubled, save a snorting ball from the home-town boy, who induced a nick from Amla that was heard by the keepers and the slips, but crucially neither the bowler nor the umpire noticed it and Root continued his indifferent form with the DRS by failing to review.
The South Africans played in such a manner as to suggest they had watched DVDs of the 2012 Oval test, when Amla scored 311 not out and they cruised to an innings victory as a result. Ultimately, a couple of late strikes, one from Stokes and one from Anderson, may have threatened to clip their wings but they ended the session 290 runs ahead and with 7 wickets in hand and are liable to run up a massive score before the day is out and most debate is one the likelihood and timing of a declaration.
If football is a game of two halves, this was a session of zero excitement.
The visitors had 7 wickets in hand, plenty of time left in the match and the knowledge that the home team had shown little bottle in final innings chases in its more recent vintages.
Amla and du Plessis played an easy hand with consummate professionalism, taking no real risks and just working the singles, putting away the bad balls and leaving judicious numbers of balls outside the off-stump.
The only real excitement came towards the end of the session when Amla tried to repeat earlier feats against Dawson (who was earlier milked like a prize Friesian for 14 runs) and instead missed his shot and on review was clearly adjudged LBW.
All told though, South Africa took 76 runs in the session and lost only one wicket. By this point, it all felt rather academic as generally England had the hang-dog expression of Billy Bunter on his way to a damn good thrashing from the headmaster.
In that "cricket is a funny old game" cliche of a way, a day that was best watched on a mix of reefers and thorazine suddenly became interesting in the final few overs.
This was largely due to the fact that South Africa had finally decided they more or less enough runs and thus decided to unleash if not the long handle then the moderately extended one. They scored 107 runs and while they lost 5 wickets along the way, the movement England got with the 2nd new ball must surely have excited them somewhat.
Anderson was still the pick of the bowlers, even if he didn't pick up a wicket in the final session, he got movement both in the air and off the pitch. The wickets that did fall were largely thanks to Moeen Ali, who picked up one with the penultimate delivery of the new ball before picking up steady wickets at the end, when South Africa attempted to hit him out of the attack.
After Philander was out trying to slog Moeen out the match, South Africa declared and left England with a tricky 4 overs to bat; whereupon if not hell then certainly all heck was let loose.
Morkel thought he had Cook plumb fist ball and so did the umpire. It took a review from the ex-captain to set matters straight. Cook and Jennings then batted out those 4 overs with a kind of grim determination, punctuated by loud appeals every time the ball beat the bat to either strike the pads or sail through to the keeper.
England have a mountain of a task on the final 2 days. Their only comforts are that:
- They are already 1-0 up in the series,
- Any overs the put into South Africa's seamers now will likely be repaid later in this series, and
- Playing outside in the sun for a living is better than a un-air-conditioned store with a west facing glass frontage
If England looked like beaten men last night, maybe they need hold onto these small comforts tonight. The worst they face is 1-all. What's past may be prologue, but they get to write their own stories in the score-books and tomorrow's chip papers.