Smith and McKenzie give South Africa escape route
After three days of being a distant second best, South Africa have a chance of leaving Lord's with a draw after Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie produced an opening stand of 204. Both players struck fine rearguard hundreds as England's attack toiled on a surface getting flatter and slower. James Anderson claimed the lone success, but South Africa still trail by 104 and will need to be batting at tea on the final day to complete their match-saving mission.
The 22 yards of pristine pitch produced by Mick Hunt has provided some heartbreak for bowlers in recent times, and when clear blue skies greeted play it signalled a day of hard toil for England's attack. South Africa had learnt their lessons from the previous day. For 80 overs the bats of Smith and McKenzie looked feet rather than inches wide.
Michael Vaughan tried everything, but in the end it was that conventional weapon, the second new ball, that finally brought a wicket with Anderson removing Smith for 107. England, although never completely flat at any stage, were clearly lifted and produced a concerted effort in the final hour. Hashim Amla was given a working-over by Anderson, but came through unscathed. With Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince still to come South Africa have the batsmen to complete the job.
There were the occasional alarms for Smith and McKenzie, especially against Monty Panesar. McKenzie survived a confident lbw shout on 13, when the ball was heading for middle and leg although Daryl Harper thought otherwise. Smith had three let-offs, firstly when no one appealed for a faint under-edge off Anderson then, on 26, when an inside edge scooted through low to Ambrose against Panesar and most clearly an outside edge off Kevin Pietersen in the final over of the old ball.
Even though Smith and McKenzie have only been opening partners for seven Tests, they have experience of long partnerships. In Chittagong, against Bangladesh, they ended the first day intact with 405 between them, a considerably higher scoring rate than they managed today, in a considerably different situation. Midway through the final session they were shaping to repeat their whole-day effort, but the second new ball brought success for England when Smith aimed to pull and got a top edge to point.
It wasn't an elegant innings from Smith - they rarely are - but after the match he has experienced it showed his character to respond with such a knock in adversity. He has also batted very little of late, just the one innings against Middlesex since pulling his hamstring during the IPL. His century, coming off 186 balls, was greeted with a look skywards and a calm salute around the ground. However, when he walked off for 107, he knew his team were far from safe.
McKenzie has been a revelation since returning to the side and he complements Smith. Partly it's the left and right-hand combination, but also the playing styles with McKenzie quite content to score at his own pace and his hundred took 307 deliveries. He was rendered virtually scoreless at times and for one period before lunch he added two runs in 60 balls, but that wasn't a concern for South Africa.
England have recent memories of finding it much tougher dismissing a side second time around at Lord's. In 2006 they enforced the follow-on against Sri Lanka, who then batted for 199 overs to save the Test. So Vaughan, even though he wasn't in charge for that match, will have been very aware of the task ahead when he sent South Africa back in. But he would have expected more than one wicket in 92 overs.
England worked hard on the ball to try and extract some reverse swing. There was a hint of it for a struggling Ryan Sidebottom, who spent time off the field during the day for general stiffness, and Anderson's afternoon burst was testing. Vaughan was at his quirkiest in the field, never afraid to set unusual fields when there was very little happening with the ball, which was most of the time. England can still force victory from this position, but they will have to defy a comatose surface and resilient opponents to leave with a series lead, which looked theirs for the taking a day earlier.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo