Anderson sparks but Amla keeps South Africa well ahead

Lunch South Africa 475 and 121 for 4 (Amla 50*, Bavuma 9*) lead England 342 by 254 runs
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James Anderson dismissed AB de Villiers for his third duck in a row © Getty Images

South Africa made angsty progress towards a position of strength on the fourth morning of the final Test at Centurion. On an indifferent pitch, in normal circumstances a lead of 254 would sound virtually impregnable, but an injury to Kyle Abbott had made them vulnerable and nothing could entirely be taken for granted.

Abbott, with his hamstring heavily strapped, attempted a few deliveries on the outfield before the start of play but his approach was so tentative and delivery so feeble his future involvement in the Test was cast into doubt; he looked in more danger of getting a late call up for the Masters Champions League.

No side has ever successfully chased more than 251 in the fourth innings at Centurion, a feat achieved by England in 2000 with two wickets to spare: the infamous match-fixing declaration by Hansie Cronje. Rule out skulduggery and nobody has ever chased down more than 200.

South Africa’s caution was understandable, nevertheless, as they made 79 runs in the session. It was exemplified by Hashim Amla, whose painstaking half-century was in sharp contrast to his blissful hundred in the first innings. On each occasion, he has summoned an innings perfectly suited to the situation and has been comfortably South Africa’s leading batsman in the series.

If Amla has given South Africa’s most batting sustenance in the series, AB de Villiers has had a torrid time since assuming the captaincy after Amla’s mid-series resignation. He has had three ducks in succession, facing only nine balls in the process, his latest failure coming second ball when James Anderson found a hooping inswinger to have him lbw.

Considering that de Villiers had politely observed before the Test that England had some bowlers – essentially Anderson – who remained highly skilled but were down on pace – the dismissal came with a bit of invective attached. De Villiers reviewed: the batsman disconsolate, the bowler continuing to fume until he had his reward.

Anderson took the first three wickets to fall. Dean Elgar had been snaffled the previous evening in a challenging session where South Africa did well to close at 42 for 1. Stephen Cook followed in the fifth over of the morning, a drive away from his body, a perceived weak spot throughout his career bringing about his downfall.

England, who won the series in Johannesburg, had belatedly awoken to their task, no more so than Anderson, who began South Africa’s second innings with only four wickets to his name, having missed the first Test in Durban because of injury, but whose pace and movement was greater than at any time in the series.

At 49 for 3, the lead 182, South Africa had a few qualms. JP Duminy, batting high at No. 5, managed to ease them, adding 57 with Amla before Ben Stokes drew him into a loose drive. Stokes, who had also struck Amla painfully on the thumb of his bottom hand the previous evening, was a handful and Amla was grateful to reach lunch unscathed.

Well, not entirely unscathed. The manner in which Amla reached his half-century – spanning three-and-a-quarter hours – emphasised that batting was now an exacting business. Stokes spat one of a length towards his face, the ball flew past short leg off his glove and Amla immediately signalled for an arm guard.

Likely to be a bowler down because of Abbott’s injury, South Africa will have watched Moeen Ali from the dressing room with particular interest. The more spin the better for a side which will seek to force a first victory in 10 Tests with two pace bowlers and the offspin of Dane Piedt supported by two more slow bowlers of limited pedigree in Elgar and Duminy.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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