South Africa v England, 5th Test, Centurion, 3rd day January 23, 2005

England wobble among the storms

England 114 for 4 (Thorpe 32*, Flintoff 0*) trail South Africa 247 (de Villiers 92, Flintoff 4-44, S Jones 4-47) by 133 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Marcus Trescothick is run out by a direct hit from Nicky Boje © Cricinfo
South Africa fought back superbly on the third day at Centurion, grabbing three wickets in the first hour after their own innings had come to an end after just two balls. Then, among three frustrating hold-ups for bad light and lightning strikes, they added the prize wicket of Andrew Strauss for 44, after he and Graham Thorpe had shared a battling stand of 85.

When play was eventually brought to an early close under the artificial light, with England trailing by 133 South Africa's mood was the brighter. But they now have only two days to bowl England out twice and level the series.

A stop-start day had started badly for South Africa, as their innings stopped abruptly on just the second delivery. Graeme Smith had considered an overnight declaration to give his bowlers an immediate crack at England, but gave his last pair the chance to add to the total instead. He needn't have bothered: Andrew Hall aimed an expansive swipe from Simon Jones, and Strauss took a good tumbling catch 10 yards inside the wide third-man boundary. England left the field buoyant. But an hour later and it was the South Africans whose tails were up as they picked up three wickets for just two runs in 19 balls.

Replying to South Africa's 247, England started with a few nervous moments as both Strauss and Marcus Trescothick aimed and missed outside off stump. Then, having seemed to weather the initial storm, Strauss stopped in his tracks and Trescothick fell as a mix-up broke the stand. Strauss drove straight past Makhaya Ntini, and called for the single. But, seeing Nicky Boje making good ground he checked - Trescothick turned and dived, but Boje's direct hit left him a foot short.

Robert Key followed three overs later, strangled down the leg side for 1 by Shaun Pollock, and then Michael Vaughan played a truly horrendous attempted pull off Pollock and, cramped for room, he could only loft the ball to Jacques Rudolph at midwicket. He had a duck to his name, England were 29 for 3 and struggling on a far from hostile batting surface.

Then followed a fascinating hour and a half under the sun. Pollock and Ntini bowled superbly, angling the ball across the left handers, and Strauss and Thorpe battled hard to steady the ship. Although neither was seriously troubled, it was backs against the wall stuff and good entertainment for the large crowd.

Andre Nel: he snarled and postured but got Andrew Strauss late on © Cricinfo
The boorish Andre Nel also bowled well but at times seemed to be angling more for a fine than a wicket. He snarled, postured and mouthed his way through a decent-enough spell, but Thorpe, on the receiving end of most of Nel's advice, remained utterly and wonderfully emotionless.

At lunch, England had stuttered to 66 for 3 with Strauss and Thorpe digging deep. During the break, dark clouds gathered and lightning struck after the resumption, forcing the players off the pitch after just four overs, but Strauss and Thorpe weathered the storm, bringing up a patient fifty partnership from 91 balls. Strauss, in particular, took advantage of some loose bowling, as he creamed Shaun Pollock for 12 in one over, including a sumptuous cover drive for four.

Play was held up for more than two hours before the match finally resumed ... for all of six balls. Strauss fended off a full toss and a dangerous bouncer from Makhaya Ntini - not the brightest bowling in the gloom - before the umpires called off play once more as the light deteriorated.

Aleem Dar and Steve Bucknor seemed even more indecisive than the fluctuating weather, umm-ing and aah-ing before finally offering the light to the batsmen, without recourse to a light meter. Some of the South Africa fielders remained on the pitch, sitting down in protest, but Strauss and Thorpe had no hesitation in striding back to the pavilion, anxious to preserve their wickets, and England's 2-1 series lead.

One strike and out: lightning and bad weather dogged the day© Cricinfo

After a second break, play resumed once more. Nel bustled in, intent on breaking up the fourth-wicket partnership in the first over after the resumption. But there were more immediately unsettling matters for England's batsmen than Nel's unthreatening deliveries: they had to adjust to the gloomy light, and readjust their mental approach after two spells back in the pavilion waiting for play to resume.

But Strauss' concentration was finally broken by Nel; he was tempted by a widish delivery which he thick-edged through to Mark Boucher (114 for 4). Andrew Flintoff strode to the crease to join the gritty Thorpe, but he hadn't faced a ball before they were walking off again for yet another frustrating delay, which proved to be the final stoppage as another spectacular storm brought an early close.

South Africa will now hope for fair conditions in the final two days of the match as they attempt to save the series.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.