The Barmy Army were singing, Romesh & Rob were watching, and England’s batsmen were laughing. I thought our lead might be approaching 300 by the end of day three, but never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate the loss of just four wickets. Today went swimmingly, and South Africa look sunk.
The only time the bowlers dominated on day 3 was when Jimmy Anderson cleaned up the Cricket Bok’s tail. He completed a well earned 5-40, which will improve his record in South Africa (a rare blemish on his rather tasty CV) no end. There’s clearly life, not to mention sharp canines, in the old dog yet.
Thereafter bat dominated ball in the most pleasing way imaginable. It was a curiously insipid effort from the South Africans. Faf du Plessis, who has a good reputation as a tactician, soon resorted to strangely negative tactics. Asking Maharaj to bowl wide of leg stump (presumably to keep the runs down) was no way to get his team back into the game. A couple of wickets might have made all the difference but du Plessis didn’t look interested. Hasn’t he watched England bat recently? Personally I thought he rather let us off the hook.
None of this, however, should detract from England’s gloriously nerveless batting. Other than young Zak Crawley, who played some handsome shots but also looked a bit rattled at times, progress was serene.
Dom Sibley made the outstanding contribution of course. His patient unbeaten 85 was by far his Test best and exactly what was needed. Have we unearthed another open who might stick around for a few years? Sibley’s powers of concentration are a rare quality in modern English batsmen. He simply doesn’t care how quickly the scoreboard moves. And this was precisely the right approach with so much time left in the game.
The patient opener’s partnership with Joe Root, which took the game away from South Africa completely, was a compelling construct of contrasts. Dom stuck around and Joe stuck it to em’.
Root’s 61 was proactive, entertaining, and seized the initiative beautifully. What a shame that a good ball (which might have hit the large crack outside the right hander’s off stump) brought his innings to an end before he could press on towards a century.
The other batsman who deserves some credit is Joe Denly. Yes he got another start but failed to go on, but he ate up over 100 deliveries yet again and wore down the South African attack. This provided a fantastic platform and enabled Root to play with a little more licence.
I’ve heard some people complain that Denly scores too slowly but his strike rate doesn’t worry me personally. There are plenty of shots in his locker and he can play all around the wicket when he wants to. He drives pleasantly, he’s strong off his legs, and although it proved his undoing today he usually pulls with grace and authority. Yes he needs to make a hundred at some point, but he’s doing just fine in my humble opinion.
So where will this game head tomorrow? I assume that England will build a lead of around 400 and then ask Anderson and Broad to do their stuff. This seems like a reasonable plan to me. Nothing can stop us, right?
In theory, yes. But I do want to issue a slight word of caution. Although I expect England to win the game from this position, the pitch looked very sedate today. It’s easy paced and simple to bat on. The odd ball misbehaves when it hits that aforementioned crack, but other than that it’s hard work for the bowlers. Having said that, I’ll still be amazed if South Africa chase down a massive 4th innings total. It would be a miracle.