England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day August 19, 2012

South Africa close in on No. 1 Test ranking


England 315 and 16 for 2 (Trott 6*, Bell 4*) need 330 more runs to beat South Africa 309 and 351 (Amla 121, Finn 4-60)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The plotting has been going on for years, the final campaign got underway at The Oval a month ago, but the phase when South Africa truly believed that they were about to go top of the Test rankings, and displace England in the process, lasted a matter of 13 overs in the polite atmosphere of a Lord's Test Sunday evening.

In that time, England, faced by what for them would be a record fourth-innings run chase of 346 to win the final Test at Lord's and level the series, lost Alastair Cook and their captain Andrew Strauss to limp to the close of the fourth day at 15 for 2.

Vernon Philander found inswing with the new ball to dismiss both England openers lbw, leaving Cook motionless and Strauss strokeless. Any captain can be forgiven an error of judgment after spending much of the past month wondering how England would ever bowl South Africa out, but his passive exit felt like the official concession of a series.

England need another 329 runs at about 3.6 runs an over on a fifth-day pitch when the average score in this Test has been below three. They must also do it against a South Africa pace attack which has proved itself the best in the world, marshalled by a captain, Graeme Smith, whose fortitude is surely about to be rewarded. They must also do it without the potential for the extraordinary that Kevin Pietersen occasionally brings. It is a big ask for team spirit and unity.

England's bowlers must feel mentally and physically battered, relieved perhaps that this was not a five-Test series. In the opening scene of the Coen brothers' movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? , a chain gang in 1930s Mississipi is seen breaking rocks while singing Po Lazarus, a negro spiritual song. Bowling at South Africa throughout this series has left England's badly in need of a melody or two as they have repeatedly foundered on the array of boulders that constitute South Africa's batting line-up.

Hashim Amla's unyielding 121 in South Africa's second-innings 351 condemned England on what began as London's hottest day of the year to a disheartening experience on a sedate and comparatively reliable pitch of chipping away against rock with the sensation that balls and chains were around their feet.

No team has chased down 345 to win a Test at Lord's - although the 1984 West Indians did rampage to 344 for 1 thanks to a double century by Gordon Greenidge, a man who as the Negro spiritual observes about Po Lazarus, took some arresting.

Amla was 57 overnight and when he back-cut Jonathan Trott to reach his hundred in the first full over of the afternoon - Trott bowling because the second new ball was only two overs away - it was his first boundary of the day. He dealt in placement, a batsman of immense certainty and subtlety.

That England could retain any hope of victory as the day progressed owed much to Steven Finn. Just when it looked as if South Africa were bound for safety at 259 for 4, a lead of 253, he produced a pre-tea spell of 3 for 19 in seven overs, including the vital wicket of Amla for 121, to keep depression at bay.

Finn does not strike you as a man much given to spiritual songs - he does not even look as if he would make much of a fist of karaoke - but once Stuart Broad and James Anderson had taken that new ball to no avail, he was introduced into the attack and plotted England's last, desperate attempt to escape.

In the first innings, he cut one back to bowl Amla through the gate, this time he straightened one to bowl him past the outside edge. AB de Villiers was unhinged by a ball that bounced and left him, giving Strauss, at first slip, his 121st catch, a record for an England outfielder, taking him beyond Ian Botham and Colin Cowdrey. Jacques Rudolph, a left-hander attacked from around the wicket, edged another ball that held its line and edged to the wicketkeeper.

Finn had taken four wickets in the first innings, but he had struggled for rhythm, just as he had in the second Test at Headingley, his habit of nudging the stumps with his knees at the bowler's end not helping his state of mind.

At Lord's, his home ground, his presence returned, as did his ability to leave the righthander. He bowled well from the start of the day, as if he recognised that this was England's final opportunity, and a slim opportunity at that, and the urgency of the situation made him remember what he was: a fast bowler.

But Philander struck out successfully for the second time in the match, impressing on England that Amla's century had all but settled the series. Amla had been missed on 2 down the leg side by Matt Prior the previous day, his first drop standing back for two years, and he made England suffer. His consummate response to all that England's offspinner, Graeme Swann, could throw at him, was a major indication of South Africa's authority.

England made their task more difficult with another blemish in the field. Anderson's fumble, diving forward to intercept a simple catch at short midwicket off Swann left the batsman, de Villiers, on 8, looking on in wonder. Strauss also missed a very difficult chance at slip, also off Swann, when Duminy, on 4, carved at the offspinner and the ball struck Strauss on the wrist at pace. England needed to accept every opportunity going.

It took England another 17.2 overs after tea to remove South Africa's last three wickets. Philander's dismissal for a spirited 35 owed much to good fortune as Anderson overbalanced slightly in footholes that have troubled him periodically throughout the match and delivered a wide long hop which Philander carved to Jonny Bairstow at backward point.

Morne Morkel fell to a smart piece of wicketkeeping from Prior who waited for his back foot to lift in the air momentarily before removing the bails. Anderson cleaned up Imran Tahir to the roars of the Lord's crowd, the fourth successive full house, for whom hope sprang eternal.

Before lunch, South Africa lost only the nightwatchman Steyn - not much more than a pebble as South African batting rocks go. Treated to a barrage of short balls, he had been struck on the top hand the previous evening and suffered another blow in the same spot from Finn.

He clung on gamely for nearly nine overs until Broad produced a rearing delivery which he could only lob gently to James Taylor at short leg. And, as for the injury, it was not even his bowling hand.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Roo on August 21, 2012, 14:17 GMT

    @JG2704... At a complete loss to your reply on my post on Bairstow & Prior (for which I posted before they batted & was correct - yet find no Eng fan did the same)... What has KP got to do with this Test match?... Re: KP - do, you believe inuendo rather than facts?... As I will repeat again, I am not a KP fan & would rather he never played against Oz ever again - send him to pergatory for all I care but do not exclude a few Test players & friends that also deserve the same castration... PS: nothing personal, just seems England have either a love or hate attitude to KP while all I am asking for is fairness to all cricketers... Sitting up with a grandkid with glandular fever atm, so not in the best moods... Sorry...

  • John on August 21, 2012, 13:27 GMT

    @ zenboomerang on (August 20 2012, 09:45 AM GMT) Indeed sour grapes ,. The ODI series is just for pride. Re KP - He was out for a 1st baller yesterday so even had he played his state of mind might not have been there anyway. On Sky News they were interviewing various fans at the Surrey ground and it seems rumour has it that KP was texting SA players advice on tactics , how to bowl to certain players etc .. I wonder - if true - if the KP fans would still be ok with that? - sadly I think they would

  • Michael on August 21, 2012, 10:42 GMT

    Well done South Africa on a deserved victory and no. 1 ranking. Looking forward to the tests in November.

  • Michael on August 21, 2012, 10:41 GMT

    @Hammond - You can't hate the cricket team and love the country, being passionate about our sports teams is an intrinsic part of being Australian. Re your comment about our cricketers being unAustralian, you must be kidding.Being passionate and confident is very Australian and why Australia has been so successful despite "your" cricket teams homeland leaving our ancestors here to rot.

  • Andrew on August 21, 2012, 0:34 GMT

    @thebrotherswaugh - LOL!!!! Should do a people swap!

  • Sharky on August 20, 2012, 17:34 GMT

    Congratulations Graeme Smith, Gary Kirsten, Allan Donald & Co for taking your country to number one! This was a brilliant Test Series and great cricket from both countries. It's a pity these two nations doesn't play each other more often. It was also a great fightback from England in the last Test. Thrilling to see how Prior, Swann and Bairstow went all-out with a Graeme Gooch and Andy Flower approach. And another nerve wrecking Test finish like that Test at The Wanderers last year 21st Nov, where Ponting scored a valuable 62 and Mitchel Johnson and Pat Cummins took Australia to a narrow victory, after their demolishing Cape Town defeat, to level the series against the Proteas. Now for the ODI's that will start Friday. I don't think it can match-up to this exciting Test series, but 'm sure the Proteas would love to take revenge after reminding them of their last 5-0 whitewash ODI defeat against England in England.

  • Geoffrey on August 20, 2012, 16:45 GMT

    @thebrotherswaugh.. I don't hate my country, just the cricket team which has been the epitome of unAustralian arrogance for too many years. England have been a far more satisfying team to follow.

  • T on August 20, 2012, 16:28 GMT

    Good teasing death.. absolutely loved it.. well done Saffas, you put them where they belong....told earlier, that Eng should have let SAffas bat for a little more time to avoid this humiliating 0-2 at home...anyway thats destiny/ last ditch effort...more coming their way downhill....hundreds of posts from the keyboard warriors? whats up now?.. someone asked spelling for C-H-O-K-E in one of the posts, here we go.. it is H-Y-P-E, I repeat, H for Horrendously Y for Yukky P for Poms E for England...it is hightime the fans, media, players, commentators & all eng cricket units took things graciously (win or defeat). bragging, disrespecting legends and all kinds of arrogance will be tamed sooner or later....history repeats, we saw Aus going down (though at least they had some legacy for 10+ yrs) and now Eng....I though pity for the Gentleman Strauss...sad that he could nt contribute in his big test..well I wish him & team all the best to come back & politely & strongly...

  • John on August 20, 2012, 14:41 GMT

    Yep, Hammond, born & bred tru-blue 100% Aussie. Thankfully, you're the only Aussie I know who hates his country, feels ashamed to live here, so forth ad nauseum. Simple solution, hop a boat & emigrate to ENG, I'm sure they'll take you with open arms. Then it's a win/win situation for all concerned. But you're already there!!!!

  • Geoffrey on August 20, 2012, 13:47 GMT

    @thebrotherswaugh- mate seriously, I have a births deaths and marriages certificate that says I was born in Darlinghurst in 1976. I have an Aussie passport and I've never lived anywhere else. Why can't people just accept that I go for England?

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