Thanks for your company and emails. I’ll leave you with Vic’s report from Cape Town. Please join Simon and Tim tomorrow morning for the final day’s play; it’ll be worth it.
Close of play England need eight wickets for victory tomorrow, South Africa 312 runs. We can probably discount the latter, Quinton de Kock notwithstanding, but the home side have a decent chance of batting out a draw. Their key men are the debutant Pieter Malan, who has already survived 193 balls for his 63, and the captain Faf du Plessis.
England will take encouragement from the hint of reverse swing that Jimmy Anderson found late in the day to set up and then dismiss Zubayr Hamza. That could prove decisive, especially with the pitch offering little to the seamers or spinners.
56th over: South Africa 126-2 (Malan 63, Maharaj 2) England give Malan a single off Curran’s first delivery, an unusual tactic that allows them to bowl at Maharaj. He is beaten, chasing a wide yorker, but there are no other alarms and he will return tomorrow morning. That’s stumps.
55th over: South Africa 123-2 (Malan 62, Maharaj 0) Anderson almost gets another one, with the nightwatchman Maharaj beaten all ends up. I thought it was the last over of the day. In fact it was Anderson’s last over, and there will be one more at the other end.
Anderson has always been so good at finding a way to take a wicket late in the day, and he’s done it again at the age of 37. Having set Hamza up with a few reverse inswingers, he got one to straighten just enough to take a thin edge as Hamza pushed forward defensively to cover any inswing. Jos Buttler did the rest, tumbling to his right to take a good two-handed catch. That is just brilliant from Anderson.
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WICKET! South Africa 123-2 (Hamza c Buttler b Anderson 18)
Anderson has done it in the last over of the day!
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54th over: South Africa 123-1 (Malan 62, Hamza 18) Sam Curran replaces Ben Stokes for the last over at this end. Nothing happens. Pieter Malan has played an almost flawless defensive innings.
“Hi Rob, Happy New Year,” says Robert Ellson. “I do hope the ICC’s cricket committee have enjoyed the first four days of this very compelling match.”
53rd over: South Africa 122-1 (Malan 62, Hamza 17) With three overs remaining today, Jimmy Anderson replaces Joe Root. He has always prided himself of taking vital wickets at the end of long days, especially on flat tracks. Another here, especially that of Malan, would be precious.
There is some reverse swing back into Malan, who offers no stroke to the first two deliveries. The second was pretty close, though I’m loath to call it a dodgy leave given how good Malan has been outside off stump. A maiden.
52nd over: South Africa 122-1 (Malan 62, Hamza 17) Stokes to Hamza, round seven. Hamza does the sensible thing by pushing the ball to mid-on and getting the hell down the other end. A single from Malan brings up the second fifty partnership of the innings – this time with only one boundary. South Africa have managed risk superbly. Hamza survives the remainder of the Stokes (working-)over. Well played.
“From memory, Mark Waugh spent much of his time at first slip, especially once Mark Taylor retired (from where he famously tried to sledge Jimmy Ormond),” says Richard O’Hagan. “Freddie, on the other hand, had to wait to even migrate to second slip. For much of his early career the first two spots were occupied by Trescothick and Strauss. Botham, on the other hand, was an almost immediate shoo-in for the number two slot. Although his ‘hands on knees’ technique provoked criticism, a few seasons of snaffling edges off Joel Garner had already turned him into a fine slipper by the time he reached the England side. He also benefitted from a era where quick bowlers were expected to stand there – both Willis and Hendrick did so for England – rather than at fine leg.”
Wasn’t it Warne 1, Mark Waugh 2? Oh I don’t know, it was forever ago.
51st over: South Africa 119-1 (Malan 61, Hamza 16) Malan moves into the sixties with a pleasant drive for two off Root. Kevin Pietersen, commentating on Sky Sports, is full of praise for Malan’s temperament and technique. He’s not the only one, but his view is worth more than most. From the wreckage of 2019, South Africa have found some really promising newcomers.
50th over: South Africa 117-1 (Malan 59, Hamza 16) England are giving Malan the single so that Stokes can bowl to Hamza. Nasser Hussain did that once to get an out-of-form Steve Waugh on strike during the 2002-03 Ashes; imagine the four-letter comedy of Waugh’s internal monologue at that precise moment. Actually, you don’t have to, I’ve found it in Waugh’s book:
It was Under-10 stuff by Nasser, intended to take the piss out of me and let his quick bowler have his way with me.
The tension was stimulating and I wanted confrontation, but I needed to let off some steam.
‘You smart-arse prick!’ seemed to cover that objective pretty well. To me, it was about respect.
Back in 2019-20, Malan does take a single, allowing Stokes four balls at Hamza. The second of those is a jaffa that that roars past the edge. This is some hot, hot heat from Stokes, but Hamza is hanging in there.
49th over: South Africa 116-1 (Malan 58, Hamza 16) Joe Root replaces Dom Bess, starting around the wicket to Malan. He plays a rare loose stroke, mistiming a sweep and gloving the ball over the head of Stokes at leg slip. England have tried everything today. We certainly can’t criticise them for not thinking outside the box.
“Just how flipping King of the Valley have you just made me feel?” says Damian Clarke. “Skipper always used to put me at second slip, even though my ego said Please, Boss, Cover! Can’t wait for my wife to get home. She’ll be absolutely thrilled at my planned evening’s monologue.”
48th over: South Africa 113-1 (Malan 55, Hamza 16) Hamza, reaching outside off stump at a short ball, clunks Stokes this far short of Broad at extra cover. He then flaps a bouncer unconvincingly into the leg side before being hit on the armpit as he tries to jump inside the line. Although Stokes is now bowling over the wicket, I think he was given an official warning for running on the pitch earlier in the over. That aside, it’s been a brilliant spell from Stokes.
“Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins is not the best album ever,” says Matt Dony. “But it makes me feel things. Fernando Torres is not the greatest player to play for Liverpool. But I got unbelievably excited when the ball was at his feet. Matthew Arnold is not history’s greatest poet. But ‘Dover Beach’ has a final stanza that I find incredibly moving. Ben Stokes is not the greatest English all-rounder. But he brings something viscerally exciting to the table.”
And it’s a lot more viscerally exciting than the phrase ‘viscerally exciting’.
47th over: South Africa 113-1 (Malan 55, Hamza 16) Five from Bess’s over. I think it’s a mistake to persist with him tonight, and I’ll keep banging on about it until fate decides to shut me up.
“I just meant the teams they’ve been in haven’t actually been tremendously successful (compared to the best teams of their time)!” says David Murray. “So can they really be such great matchwinners? PS England could still lose this…”
I think they can, but each his own. I wouldn’t worry about England losing this unless de Kock takes matters into his own hands. South Africa won’t risk it.
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46th over: South Africa 108-1 (Malan 52, Hamza 14) Stokes winces after bowling one short ball to Malan. I think it’s his side, though he has no problem finishing the over. Another maiden to the hugely impressive Malan. Stokes looks absolutely shattered, so I fully expect him to bowl the remaining four overs at this end.
“Enjoyed the discussion on our all-rounders,” says Paul in Manchester. “Just wondered why are they all brilliant at second slip? Rather than say in the covers? Or rather than first slip?”
Stokes would be good anywhere, Flintoff and latterday Botham less so I suspect. The slip question is a good one. I assume it’s just that second slip is the most important position – Mark Waugh, probably the greatest of all, fielded there I think – and that they would have been equally good at first.
45th over: South Africa 108-1 (Malan 52, Hamza 14) Bess has now moved around the wicket to the right-handers, which theoretically brings both edges into play, but in truth he is struggling to threaten either.
“England have used seven bowlers before any one of the has bowled 10 overs,” says Michael Duggan. “Has this happened before in a Test? I wouldn’t even know how to begin asking Statsguru.”
I suspect even Travis Basevi, the hulking genius who invented Statsguru, wouldn’t know how to ask that. I suspect it’s happened a few times in the past – perhaps in this match – but couldn’t be sure.
44th over: South Africa 106-1 (Malan 51, Hamza 13) Stokes has decided it’s time for some rough stuff from round the wicket. Rough is the operative word, as it might also be with a view to leaving a few footmarks outside the right-hander’s off stump for Dom Bess. Kumar Dharmasena has a word about his follow through halfway the over, in fact, so Stokes moves over the wicket for the final delivery. A maiden to Malan, who dealt with the short stuff comfortably.
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43rd over: South Africa 106-1 (Malan 51, Hamza 13) Malan drives Bess for a single to reach a very impressive half-century on debut. It’s been a calm, accomplished innings: 144 balls, two fours, umpteen well-judged singles. I think England should bring back Anderson at this end, as nothing much is happening for Bess. Do you hear that, fate? Can you hear me now? Nothing is happening for Bess. Sweet bugger all. D squat. Nuttin.
42nd over: South Africa 103-1 (Malan 49, Hamza 12) A lovely delivery from Stokes follows Malan and hits him near the breastbone. It would be such a cliche if Stokes ripped out a couple of wickets before the close. There are 13 overs remaining.
“Seems clear to me that Stokes is the best batsman, Flintoff the best bowler, Stokes the best fielder and Flintoff the most X-factor, which can only mean that England’s greatest allrounder is Botham,” says James. “Anyway, statistics show that Alastair Cook has a Test average of 47 with the bat and 7 with the ball.”
And the best Bob Willis impersonation, so he wins in the crowd-pleasing department as well.
41st over: South Africa 100-1 (Malan 46, Hamza 12) Bess gets one to kick at Hamza, who lets it go past his body and down the leg side for four byes. A bit more encouragement for England, though. That’s drinks.
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40th over: South Africa 96-1 (Malan 46, Hamza 12) Ben Stokes comes into the attack. He has a bowling average of 33.38, higher than those of Mark Ealham, Dermot Reeve and Richard Illingworth. He starts with a no-ball before hitting a good length with a bit of lift to Malan. As throughout the innings, Malan shows immaculate judgement outside off stump.
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39th over: South Africa 95-1 (Malan 46, Hamza 12) It’s not compulsory for England to bowl a spinner at the Kelvin Grove End, but that’s what Joe Root has done since Bess came into the attack. There isn’t much happening for him – a bit of turn, but not much bounce. South Africa must be starting to fancy their chances of drawing this match.
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38th over: South Africa 90-1 (Malan 44, Hamza 9) Broad turns Malan round with a good delivery that takes a leading edge and dribbles into the off side. England really need at least one more wicket tonight, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen Ben Stokes yet.
“Pulling off miracles every now and then is fine,” says OB Jato, “but I think we can all agree that Colin de Grandhomme is the daddy of Test all-rounders?”
Don’t. I still wake up most mornings in a cold sweat, eight overs into his spell in the World Cup final, the walls inexorably closing in.
37th over: South Africa 89-1 (Malan 43, Hamza 9) Enough with the emails for a bit, I keep missing the actual cricket. The impressive Malan skids back in his crease to force consecutive deliveries from Bess for two and then three. He’s an alert runner, Malan, and his hit only two boundaries in his 43.
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36th over: South Africa 83-1 (Malan 38, Hamza 8) “Flintoff is a bit like Harmison,” says Stephen Wolstencroft. “When he was on it he was a world beater, but there were too many series when he was nowhere near his best and/or drunk at sea. Stokes is more consistent, a better batsman, and has a habit of taking key wickets and of bowling Flintoff-like endurance spells. Freddie is better at chess, though.”
Not sure I agree with that. As a batsman, certainly, but as a bowler I thought Flintoff was consistently excellent from around 2004 until his knee packed in, and even then he produced that epic spell in the 2009 Lord’s Test against Australia. Flintoff’s C-game was miles better than Harmison’s, in my humble one.
Stokes is a much better batsman, though, even though Freddie did have a golden period from 2003-06. I’d say Stokes is closer to Botham, who was also technically excellent, as a batsman.
35th over: South Africa 83-1 (Malan 38, Hamza 8) Dom Bess replaces Joe Denly, who did his job by getting rid of Dean Elgar. I’m still not convinced Elgar hit it, but hey ho. There’s a suggestion of turn to Hamza, who inside-edges one delivery onto the pad and short of the man at short leg. An accurate start from Bess.
34th over: South Africa 83-1 (Malan 38, Hamza 7) Broad goes wide on the crease to Hamza, who edges along the ground for four. England only have two slips anyway and that was well wide of them. It’s hard yakka out there. England have 21 overs to take another wicket or two.
“Re. your 30th over comments,” says David Murray. “Doesn’t this slightly ignore the fact that Stokes, Flintoff and even Botham perhaps didn’t actually win all that many matches compared with the very best?”
That depends how you define matchwinning, I suppose. Jason Roy and Jos Buttler won the Headingley Test of 2019, but they scored 23 runs between them.
33rd over: South Africa 78-1 (Malan 38, Hamza 3) Hamza gets off the mark with a confident cut off Denly. He looks much less threatening to the right-handers from over the wicket than he did to Elgar. It might be worth trying to attack from round the wicket.
“Look at what Stokes did today to set up a match-winning scenario,” says David Kelsey. “He came out and (elegantly) clumped 72 off 47. He could have done things very differently but he played the scenario for the team; and he does this all the time. Averages are useful, context is usefullerererererer.”
Yes but context, like lunch, is difficult. That’s why most people treat averages as gospel. Anyway, Stokes and Kallis are so different that there’s no point trying to compare them. It’s like comparing an epochal orgasm and a massive bank balance.
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32nd over: South Africa 73-1 (Malan 36, Hamza 0) Stuart Broad replaces Sam Curran (6-2-9-0). That’s a bespoke bowling change, as Broad has dismissed Zubayr Hamza in every innings in this series. Hamza looks keen to get off strike, but does the next best thing by surviving the last four balls of the over.
“The running down the wicket in the Oz match was innocuous in the extreme,” says Martin Turnbull. “Can you let David Murray know that his accusation will be remembered come the next Ashes. Looking forward to seeing the Poms put to the sword next year: 4-1 is my early prediction.”
What makes you so confident England will win the fifth Test?
31st over: South Africa 73-1 (Malan 36, Hamza 0) Denly continues, although he’s now bowling to two right-handers. He’d prefer to bowl to a left-hander, though none are due in until Quinton de Kock.
30th over: South Africa 72-1 (Malan 35, Hamza 0) “Is it just me or is ‘XX can’t be judged by statistics’ standard English cricket fan speak for ‘not actually that great’?” says Indy Bagral. “You all love to harp on about single standout performances, but part of what makes such performances stand out is the dross that surrounds them. Stokes’ 4th innings at Headingley will live on in folklore but it politely ignores the fact that if he hadn’t got himself out chasing a wide one at 30 odd for 3 in the first innings, maybe some Hollywood heroics wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place? It’s always been a personal conviction of mine that this English preference for a highlights reel over boringly consistent actual brilliance is what keeps them from ever being the best for any sustained period of time.”
I know what you mean, but I don’t particularly agree. I don’t have time to reply, properly, but I’ll always believe there is a small group of selfless matchwinners (Adam Gilchrist was another) whose impact cannot be conveyed through averages.
29th over: South Africa 71-1 (Malan 34, Hamza 0) That was Joe Denly’s first Test wicket.
Elgar pushed tentatively outside off stump at Denly and was given out caught behind. He reviewed straight away, thinking his bat had hit the ground. There was the smallest spike on UltraEdge as the ball went past the edge, and then another spike as the bat hit the ground. That was enough for the third umpire to uphold the original decision. My instinct is that Elgar didn’t hit it, but I suppose there wasn’t enough evidence for the third umpire to overrule.
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WICKET! South Africa 71-1 (Elgar c Buttler b Denly 34)
Joe Denly has struck! It’s a pretty controversial dismissal, which was upheld on review, but Elgar has gone.
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28th over: South Africa 64-0 (Malan 29, Elgar 32) This is good stuff from Curran, who is using plenty of variations in an attempt to make something happen. If Anderson and Broad are the classical interrogators, then Curran is more like Manny from Black Books. That over, a maiden to Elgar, was the fifth of his spell. He might have one more before Ben Stokes, who is a different kind of cop, replaces him at this end.
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26th over: South Africa 61-0 (Malan 28, Elgar 30) Curran switches over the wicket to Malan, who edges a good delivery along the floor to second slip.
“Hi Rob,” says David Murray. “Interesting to read about Warner and Labuschagne both getting penalised for running down the pitch (presumably trying to make things easier for Lyon in the fourth innings). Australia still not averse to a bit of cheating?”
I haven’t seen it, but I’d be surprised if it was deliberate. It doesn’t make much sense, as they were going to win anyway and we’re still in the PR years.
25th over: South Africa 60-0 (Malan 28, Elgar 29) “Happy new year Rob, and to all those who read the OBO,” says Chris Drew. “Talking of the leg spin bowling of Marnŵs fach for Australia, he was also the second highest wicket taker for Glamorgan last season. I’m trying to contain my excitement for the new season…”
He won’t just trouble the scorers, he’ll have them begging for mercy.
24th over: South Africa 57-0 (Malan 27, Elgar 27) Sam Curran continues at the other end, the one with the crack. Malan takes a sharp single to mid-off, a reflection of South Africa’s positive intent since tea. They’ve scored 10 in two overs, all in ones and twos.
23rd over: South Africa 52-0 (Malan 24, Elgar 26) There are 33 overs to bowl this evening. England probably need at least two wickets in that time to ensure a decent night’s sleep. The part-time legspinner Joe Denly, who looked dangerous before tea, has Elgar in trouble straight away. His third ball spat from the rough to hit Elgar on the arm guard and loop wide of Buttler. England thought it was a chance, with Buttler stretching desperately in an unsuccessful attempt to take the catch, but replays showed it wouldn’t have been out. Later in the over Malan pushed a single to bring up a solid fifty partnership.
“Stokes v Flintoff?” says Tom Carver. “Children of their times and can’t be compared. Stokes is a millennial striving to be the best version of himself. Flintoff was a naughty noughties boozer mainly striving to have fun and play some cricket along the way. Stokes is the better player, applies himself more assiduously and will end up with better stats, but Flintoff will be remembered more fondly.”
Depends whether you’re X or Y, surely?
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Tea South Africa have a chance of saving this match. England are still strong favourites, with four sessions remaining, but the pitch isn’t doing a lot and South Africa know their way round a fourth-innings rearguard. See you in 15 minutes for the final session.
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22nd over: South Africa 46-0 (Malan 23, Elgar 21) Joe Root brings himself on for the latest before tea. A lot goes on but nothing happens, and South Africa go to tea unscathed. Pieter Malan and Dean Elgar have played impressively.
21st over: South Africa 44-0 (Malan 22, Elgar 20) Denly enquires politely for LBW when Malan pushes forward with bat and pad together. Even if it was pad first, he was outside off stump. Another encouraging over from Denly, who will hopefully continue after tea.
“The Stokes/Flintoff debate is getting a tad tedious,” says Nacmac Bok. “The definitive answer to an allrounder debate is always Jacques Kallis.”
Even when the question is about English allrounders?
20th over: South Africa 43-0 (Malan 21, Elgar 20) Curran continues around the wicket to Malan. He leaves everything outside off stump, including a couple of deliveries that lift from a length. His judgement looks excellent.
19th over: South Africa 41-0 (Malan 20, Elgar 20) Another imaginative bit of captaincy from Joe Root, who has brought on Joe Denly to replace Dom Bess. There’s a lot of rough outside the left-hander’s off stump, and we saw how dangerous the part-time legspin of Marcus Labuschagne could be during the Ashes.
Malan overbalances and is fortunate that the ball hits the pad and deflects wide of Buttler for a leg bye. Had it done so, that would have been a stumping chance. The next ball bursts from the rough to Elgar, who gloves it in the air on the off side. The delivery after that rips through the gate to hit Elgar in the chest, and he ends the over by missing a slightly flustered sweep stroke. A superb, mood-changing first over from Denly.
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18th over: South Africa 39-0 (Malan 20, Elgar 19) Sam Curran comes on to replace Jimmy Anderson. I think he’ll be an important bowler today, with his variety, intelligence and golden arm. He goes straight around the wicket to the right-handed Malan, who offers no stroke to a ball that curves reasonably close to off stump. Another maiden, the fourth in five overs.
“Interesting debate about the best all-rounder,” says Max in Germany, “but I think Stokes has the talent (and time) to be even more devastating than Kallis.”
What Stokes doesn’t have, and probably never will, are Kallis’s ruthlessness and concentration. That’s why his career averages will be nowhere near as good. But you can’t really judge Stokes by statistics. It’s like trying to quantify love, or something.
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17th over: South Africa 39-0 (Malan 20, Elgar 19) Apologies, I’m all over the show here. To be honest, very little is happening. South Africa are plodding along comfortably, England are getting no help from the pitch or the Kookaburra ball.
16th over: South Africa 37-0 (Malan 20, Elgar 17) Malan does well to shoulder arms and allow a lifter from Anderson to whistle past his armpit. He looks an accomplished old-fashioned opener, an observation supported by his first-class record: 10,000 runs at an average of 45.
“Re: Faf’s debut rearguard hundred… look at AB’s scoring rate in the second innings!” says Kevin Wilson. “For a guy with a reputation as a 360 degree player made for T20, he could bat out time when his side was under the cosh phenomenally well. Check this out against India in 2015. South Africa lost, but they batted 143 overs for 143 all out! De Villiers scored 43 from 297 balls!”
That team was great at putting the shutters up. The thing I love most about de Villiers’ rearguard in Adelaide is that, six days later, he lashed 169 from 184 balls to win the series. Where do you even start with that level of brilliance? Headingley 2019, I suppose.
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15th over: South Africa 37-0 (Malan 20, Elgar 17) Another economical over from Bess. He’s not really threatening, though, and I’d like to see Sam Curran have a few overs from that end.
14th over: South Africa 37-0 (Malan 20, Elgar 17) Sorry, I keep missing the actual cricket to attend to emails. The lack of excitement in the TV commentary suggests you’re not missing much.
“I’d agree re Freddie being a better bowler,” says Boris Starling. “You rarely get the sense that Stokes is capable of turning a game with the ball the way he is with the bat, or that he could bowl an over like Flintoff’s famous one at Edgbaston to get rid of Langer and Ponting in 2005. When it comes to discussing all-round play, we shouldn’t forget Stokes’ fielding, which is as good as anyone in the world right now and as any England player in history. If it came to picking one man to take a catch for my life, I’d probably still have Mark Waugh, but Stokes would definitely be in the mix.”
Flintoff was an immense bowler. At his best, he was the most irresistible England bowler of my cricket-watching lifetime. Others did it for much longer, I realise.
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13th over: South Africa 37-0 (Malan 19, Elgar 17) Bess has a slip and short leg for Malan, who looks comfortable in coming down the track to the offspinner. Three from the over. No sign of any bite for Bess at the moment.
“Based on this morning’s evidence, we might be forgiven for thinking that Stokes cares more about England winning this match than nurturing his career average,” says Brian Withington. “The man clearly has no future in the game – let’s make him captain soon.”
He’d be a shoo-in for an all-time Selfless XI. One of the best things about this morning’s innings is that Stokes took two – one for the team one for Dom Sibley. In a parallel universe Stokes batted at a normal tempo, Sibley worried that he was holding the team back and got himself out for 93.
12th over: South Africa 34-0 (Malan 17, Elgar 17) Anderson changes ends to replace Broad (5-1-13-0), and Malan drives him crisply through extra cover for three. He’s playing nicely. As is Elgar, who pings a boundary through mid-on off the next delivery. This is a test of England’s patience.
“I’d be quite up for a rearguard action here,” says Pete Salmon. “Remember those? Mark Greatbatch or Andy Flower batting for seven sessions, jumpers for goalposts. Nowadays it’s all Ben Stokes and Kusal Perera sort of nonsense. Be nice to be applauding Elgar off at the end of the match on 158 not out in a total of 8/360. Proper cricket.”
If anyone can, South Africa can. Faf du Plessis famously did it on debut, and that great side of the early 2010s had a few such rearguards. That said, those who really know their Onions would rather South Africa ended nine rather than eight wickets down.
11th over: South Africa 27-0 (Malan 14, Elgar 13) Malan uses his feet to drive Bess for a single, something South Africa didn’t really do in the first innings. That’s drinks, which comes at a decent time for England’s thinktank.
“Not sure why commentators are in a funk about letting Broad have a few overs out in the middle,” says Tom Atkins. “There’s plenty of time, he could use the practice out in the middle and for me the psychological value of making bowlers toil pointlessly and the openers sweat out on the field shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Most people are disproportionately angry about something these days. And if you don’t agree, I’ll fill you in.
10th over: South Africa 26-0 (Malan 13, Elgar 13) There isn’t a huge amount happening for Broad. This could be a case for
Sam Curran, who has the ability to take wickets in unusual ways.