Bavuma shines to stem England surge

Tea South Africa 525 for 6 (Bavuma 52*, Morris 24*) trail England 629 for 6 dec by 104 runs
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Hashim Amla secured his fourth Test double-hundred as he guided South Africa towards safety in in Cape Town. When his steadfast resistance finally expired shortly after lunch, his 201 represented the third-longest Test innings in South Africa, in terms of ball faced. Over nearly 12 hours he had glued together South African resolve, an understated captain responding indefatigably in a time of need.

Amla’s was one of three wickets to fall on the fourth afternoon as the third new ball brought England momentary release – Faf du Plessis and Quinton du Kock also dismissed within the space of 22 balls. Amla was the first of them, undone by Stuart Broad who coaxed just enough movement out of a placid surface to bowl him off an inside edge. Only Gary Kirsten and Michael Atherton had faced more deliveries in a Test in South Africa than his 477.

Du Plessis, 81 not out at lunch, missed out on a hundred that he seemed to have been heading inexorably towards, James Anderson finding the edge from around the wicket and Ben Stokes retrieving an alert, low catch at third slip. There were good plans, too, for de Kock, who was given a strong leg-side field and a surfeit of short balls and who mis-hooked to square leg.

With South Africa still 180 behind, at 449 for 6, a positive result could not entirely be discounted – not by computer programmers anyway. England cranked up the aggression for an hour, indulging in a few verbals along the way and Anderson knowingly collected a second warning for running on the pitch. Go for broke and see what happens was the obvious message.

That made Temba Bavuma’s zestful half-century in retort – his second in eight Tests – all the more praiseworthy. It was a bright-as-a-button affair, brought up from 52 balls and replete with enterprising cuts and pulls, a cheery topping on Amla’s slow-cooked special. At tea, the deficit was 104 and, if any team was under the tiniest amount of pressure, it was England.

Amla’s concentration was admirable, his defensive technique impeccable, but in cricket when the situation is dead the game is dead and this Test had become a dreary affair, a stalemate from which there was no escape until the end of tomorrow.

When he fell, four overs into the afternoon, nine wickets had gone down for 1068 runs, a runs-per-wicket ratio more than the twice the next highest for a Test in South Africa. Even 37C temperatures had failed to bring any signs of disintegration in this surface.

England had little glimpses of opportunity in the morning, most glaringly when Amla miscued Moeen down the ground on 197 and was fortunate that the ball dropped safely between the two straight fielders. A ball later, he soft-shoe shuffled a single through mid-on. Applause rippled around Newlands. It was the moment the crowd had been waiting for. They had done little else but wait all morning. They deserved the lightsome afternoon’s entertainment from Bavuma as a reward for their patience.

Du Plessis’ most anxious moment came when he edged a full-length ball from Moeen past Anderson at slip. For the second time in the innings, the ball flew too rapidly past Anderson who was hunting an edge from a defensive push – a theory which, although events conspired against it, did possess a certain amount of logic.

This Test has passed through recognisable phases. It began with excitement, as Stokes and Jonny Bairstow batted at an astounding rate on a flat surface nevertheless offering decent pace and bounce. It became a challenge of concentration as Amla stiffened South African sinews in the face of England’s 629 for 6. And, on the fourth day, with that pace and bounce a distant memory, as long as Amla remained it became a process of repetition.

Old timers wallowed in memories of big scores of days gone by, England fans crept away to climb Table Mountain and there was a terrible temptation to switch TV channels and watch the Big Bash pack them in again in Adelaide. Even the Indian schoolboy who has scored 1009 not out in Mumbai must have been under greater threat.

Somewhere there will be a connoisseur of the Test game who will claim that the fourth morning was wonderfully fulfilling. For all Amla’s craftsmanship, not many would agree. This is becoming the Test with no reason to live.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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