In a Test that is increasingly proving to be one that will be known as a breeding ground for rookie batsmen, it was the turn of Pieter Malan to put his hand up.
Unfazed by anything that was thrown at him, Malan survived three spells from James Anderson, two spells each from Stuart Broad and Sam Curran and one nasty spell from Ben Stokes. Equally potent against spin, Malan kept Dom Bess, Joe Denly and Joe Root at bay during the 193 balls he faced during the day.
Batting with a positive mindset, Malan (63*) hardly played a maiden over till very late in the day. Quick on his feet, he was particularly impressive with his strike rotation.
South Africa lost Dean Elgar early after Tea. After the pair brought up their fifty partnership – the first for the opening wicket for South Africa in the last 17 Tests – Denly beat Elgar (34) on the outside edge. Given out by Paul Reiffel, a faint nick was detected during the DRS review and the decision stayed in England’s favour.
Malan played a guiding light to Zubayr Hamza as well. The 30-year old domestic veteran for South Africa was constantly in conversations with the young Hamza, reassuring him through tough phases. The pair added another 52 runs and almost carried South Africa to the end of the day.
Anderson, in the penultimate over of the day, just about helped his team to end the day on a high. Using whatever little reverse wing on offer with the 55-over old ball, he delivered a ball in the perfect channel that Hamza (18) could only edge to Jos Buttler. England were elated, almost relieved.
Keshav Maharaj joined Malan as a night-watchman and saw the hosts to the end of day’s play.
South Africa are still 312 runs behind. Malan’s resistance has given some hope to the Proteas in what has been a dull couple of days for them. For a team known for some miracle comebacks, a new challenge awaits. One that might carry this new generation forward to achieve greater heights.
After the madness of the morning session, the afternoon session brought back the sanity of attrition from the last day. Much like the narrative from the entire game, the afternoon session proved to be tailor-made for batting.
The wicket continued to appear dead. With no particular help, Anderson and Broad started their spell being hit for a four respectively. Chasing 438, the openers Malan and Elgar started with caution and went largely unfussed.
Both the English veterans got close to getting a breakthrough once. In the second over of the South Africa innings, Malan missed an incoming ball from Broad that struck his pads. Given not-out by the on-field umpire, DRS did not help England, showing a spike as the ball passed the bat.
A couple of overs later, Malan missed another incoming ball, this time from Anderson. Ricocheting off his front pad, it hit the back pad as well and was gulped by Buttler. While the slip cordon got excited, perceiving an inside edge, England did not waste a review for the second time.
The session strolled by without much activity for the next 13 overs until Denly was introduced into the attack. Bowling on the rough, he produced a few deliveries that jumped after pitching, particularly troubling Elgar.
South Africa survived the session unscathed and added 46 runs. England tried as many as six bowlers in the 22 overs.
Earlier, England declared with a lead of 437 runs with Dom Sibley remaining unbeaten for 133. With the rough continuing to play tricks and no significant help for pacers, it is highly likely to see a domination of spin in the last session.
As if the lessons from last evening were not enough, South Africa started the day with a lot of questionable decisions.
Opting not to take the new ball, which was available just after one over in the morning, South Africa continued with Keshav Maharaj and Dwaine Pretorius.
Getting his eye in after the first few overs, Ben Stokes took full toll of the mediocrity. He hit Pretorius over mid-on for a six and unleashed a reverse sweep for another four. With a license to kill, Stokes clobbered Maharaj for a six in the next over.
As Plan A failed, Faf du Plessis opted for the new ball. A fired-up Stokes was not having any of it. Attacking Vernon Philander right away, he hit him for a boundary towards square leg right away. Philander, put off-track by Stokes’s mindset, dropped a short and wide at around 120kmph for the BBC sports personality of the year to treat himself to another four of the last ball.
Frustratingly adding to strange decision making, Maharaj continued bowling from the other end. The same approach of bowling from over the wicket into the rough.
Adding to South Africa’s misery, Quinton de Kock dropped a mistimed pull from Stokes. Attacking Kagiso Rabada, who replaced Philander just after two overs, Stokes top-edged a pull that hung in the air for an eternity. Calling to take it instead of letting the fine leg fielder, de Kock misjudged it and could get his fingertips to it. Stokes celebrated the let-off with thumping a full toss to the mid-wicket boundary.
Stokes brought his fifty off just 34 balls in the next over of Rabada. Going at his usual pace, Sibley edged to the vacant first slip to get to 99. He completed his maiden Test ton after executing a sweep off Maharaj’s one of many innocuous deliveries down the leg side.
The assault on Maharaj continued after drinks. Stokes started with putting a half-tracker away for four and then hitting another six over long-on. Not holding anything back, Stokes reverse-slogged him for another four to score 15 runs in the over. Eyeing a hundred in the session, Stokes (72 off 47 balls) attempted another six in Maharaj’s next over but was taken at long-on.
Ollie Pope (3) played on in the next over by Rabada, a dismissal that probably highlighted the flaw in South Africa’s planning since morning.
Anrich Nortje replaced Rabada after a four-over spell. Jos Buttler made merry of the match situation and targeted him. He hit two sixes of the speedster, first a push that went flat over the long-off fielder, second a hook over the leg-side boundary. Getting cheeky, Buttler (23) attempted a scoop but could only tickle to de Kock’s gloves.
Taking a leaf out of Stokes’s book, Sibley attacked Maharaj and slog-swept him for a six. He hit him for two more fours, one through a sweep and second a touch towards the fine leg boundary.
Maharaj’s disappointment continued as Sam Curran hit him and Pretorius for a four each before the lunch interval. England scored 157 runs off 27 overs in the morning session and now lead by 421 runs. It won’t be long before South Africa’s misery with the ball ends.