Gibbs punishes weary England
Close South Africa 306 for 6 (Gibbs 136*, Pollock 0*) trail England 411 for 8 dec by 105 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
England chipped away at South Africa's batsmen on an unexpectedly sunny third day of the fourth Test, reducing them to 306 for 6 by stumps. Matthew Hoggard's four wickets, including the dangerman Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, lit up proceedings. But, towards the close, a century from Herschelle Gibbs - his first for nearly a year - and 64 from Mark Boucher on his return to the Test arena brought more than a ray of light to their team: a positively beaming South Africa were back on top while none of England's weary bowlers could find a consistent line. And, although Boucher fell in the last hour, Geraint Jones dropped Gibbs off the penultimate ball of the day, neatly summing things up for England.
And their day began as it had finished: gloomily. Before the start of play, dark skies and the artificial light suggested some serious lateral movement was in the offing and Michael Vaughan made a positive declaration. But, no sooner had the players taken to the field after a delayed start, the sun came out, the floodlights came off and South Africa came to life as Smith and Gibbs took the attack to the bowlers on a pitch which had suddenly swung in favour of batting.
They started solidly, and looked set for another big partnership as they rattled up a stand of 50 in 80 balls, each cracking a spate of fours as the bowlers struggled to find their line: Steve Harmison was replaced by James Anderson after bowling just two wayward overs. But Anderson could do no better and, in the first nine overs, only three of the 54 balls delivered would have gone on to hit the stumps. But finally Hoggard got one on target and Smith, forced on to the back foot, fell - literally - to his knees, and was trapped lbw for 29 (64 for 1). It was the third time he had been trapped lbw by a Hoggard inswinger in the last four innings - and England's mood brightened as the sun blazed above.
It became even more radiant when Jacques Rudolph flashed a widish delivery from Hoggard to Ashley Giles at gully. He was gone for 4, but what was a bad break for South Africa - as they wobbled on 75 for 2 - was also a hard knock for Giles: he dislocated his right thumb, holding on at the second attempt. He left the field for treatment, but he made a return later and even managed to bowl, albeit fruitlessly.
But it was Hoggard's third victim which England so desperately wanted: Jacques Kallis. Not for the first time this series, he had looked ominously set but Hoggard found a way through to his leg stump and Kallis was gone for 33 - a score England would have taken at the start of play (138 for 3). Dippenaar fell soon after, as Flintoff tempted him to edge to Marcus Trescothick at first slip for a good, low catch (149 for 4). Despite all the hoohah in the build-up to the game, Flintoff barely seemed troubled by his sidestrain, as he sent down 23 overs.
It wasn't all doom and gloom for the South African batsmen, however, in the afternoon: as a stand between Gibbs and Kallis yielded 63 runs and some cheer. Gibbs made his first half-century of the series - which included ten fours - and he went on to convert this to an unbeaten 136 by the close. They tucked in to some loose bowling from Anderson, who was out of sorts but, having not played a first-class match since the fourth Test in August against West Indies, his form was hardly a surprise. Harmison, with less of an excuse, also struggled to find his line, and - having been struck for a towering hooked six by Kallis - he limped off to have a scan on a damaged calf.
AB de Villiers was the fourth scalp for Hoggard; after a breezy knock of 18, he top-edged a swivel hook down the throat of Giles who had been sheltering at long leg to protect his thumb (184 for 5). De Villiers found nowhere to hide, however, and his dismissal brought Boucher to the crease for his first, eagerly-awaited innings of the series. He didn't disappoint: having been overlooked by the selectors for the first three Tests, this time all of the surrounding fuss was justified, as he stroked 64 off 90 balls. He looked at home and, my, how South Africa's followers were glad to have him back in the fold as he brought up a century stand with Gibbs in the last hour, and then lifted them past the 300-mark.
Yet, just before the close, as England's bowlers were tiring, Anderson got a lucky break as Boucher inexplicably failed to roll his wrists over a cut shot which flew to Andrew Strauss at point (306 for 6). Gibbs was lucky to survive with two balls to go in the day, as he edged to Geraint Jones, who could only get a glove on it as he dived across Trescothick, who was better positioned at first slip. Now England will have their work cut out on the fourth day in polishing off the last four batsmen of a South African line-up which has been much bolstered since the first Test.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.