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December 18, 2009
Close South Africa 418 (Kallis 120, Swann 5-110) and 9 for 1 (Smith 6*, Harris 2*) lead England 356 (Swann 81, Harris 5-123) by 71 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Graeme Swann put his top-order colleagues to shame with a rollicking innings of 85 from 81 balls - the highest score by an England No. 9 for 38 years - as England fought back from a desperate mid-afternoon collapse to close the third day with their fortunes in the first Test restored. In the four overs available before the close, James Anderson extracted Ashwell Prince for a duck with his sixth delivery, to ensure that - despite a first-innings deficit of 62 - the momentum had shifted firmly to the visiting camp.
Such a stunning finale to the day could not have been envisaged at tea, when South Africa's stranglehold on the contest appeared to be absolute. From a promising overnight position of 88 for 1, England had slipped and slithered to 238 for 7, with the spinner Paul Harris applying a four-wicket tourniquet with his choking left-arm line. It was a scoreline that became even worse three overs after the break, when Stuart Broad was adjudged lbw to JP Duminy after a referral that appeared, in Broad's opinion, to have been instigated by the South African dressing-room.
But by the close, that potential controversy had become a distant blip in the memory, thanks to a surging stand of 106 in 23 overs between Swann and Anderson, a ninth-wicket performance that beat the previous best by England against South Africa - 99 between Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison at The Oval in 2003, another match in which England battled back from a seemingly futile position.
Swann, who batted with an abandon that brought no less a figure than IT Botham to mind, clattered 10 fours and two sixes in the course of his innings, and even unfurled a brace of switch hits that Kevin Pietersen could hardly have bettered. Anderson, meanwhile, walloped Harris over midwicket for his first six in Test cricket, and it wasn't until an attack of cramp undermined his effectiveness that he chipped Makhaya Ntini to a diving Morne Morkel at mid-off.
Up until that moment (which was delayed while Swann cheekily called for a review to check whether there had been a no-ball) there was nothing that South Africa could do to stem the onslaught, and Smith gathered his errant charges together to lay down the law during another delay for an unsuccessful referral. His biggest mistake, however, was to call for the second new ball in the 81st over, with England still wading through treacle on 242 for 8.
Suddenly, the extra hardness, coupled with the extra pace of Ntini and Morkel, encouraged Swann and Anderson to have a dart at a counterattack. Anderson signalled the charge with a first-ball punch through the covers for four, Swann swatted Ntini off his eyebrows for six, and by the time Smith retreated back to his spinner, 40 tempo-changing runs had poured forth in seven overs.
Suddenly there was no holding either batsman back. Harris was hoisted into the midwicket stand for Swann's second six, then pummelled twice through the covers as he flipped around in his stance to take on the switch hit. His half-century came up from 47 balls with a sweep through fine leg, and even the rare shots that he failed to middle still skidded off the edge through third man. In the end, with only Graham Onions for company, Swann took on Harris one too many times, and picked out deep midwicket to end a truly spectacular knock.
That wicket, fittingly, was Harris's fifth in the innings, and it was due reward for a performance in which he had lived up to his unlikely billing as the No. 9-ranked bowler in the world. Harris does not look the likeliest destroyer in the South African set-up, and with his unattractive round-arm action and a degree of spin reminiscent of the much-lampooned Ashley Giles, he is a cricketer who is destined to be under-rated. But that suited his purposes just fine for today, as a host of England batsmen lined up to be prised out on a dry and dusty wicket.
Of Harris's first four victims, only Paul Collingwood - who grafted his way to a gutsy half-century before being caught at slip by a sharply turning delivery in the same over - could say he was undone by a cracking delivery. The remainder were ground down by his unyielding accuracy, not least Ian Bell, who padded up to a straight delivery to be bowled for 5, a crass error of judgment brought his place in the side under yet more untimely scrutiny.
England's day began inauspiciously when Andrew Strauss, their overnight stalwart on 44 not out, was bowled by Ntini for the addition of just two more runs. There was little that Strauss could do about the ball that extracted him - a shooter on off stump that scuttled at shin height beneath his defences - and as the punters in the stands swarmed to the bar to claim the free pints that had been promised if Ntini struck in his 100th Test, South Africa piled on the pressure and reduced the scoring rate to a crawl.
Morkel and Ntini maintained excellent discipline as England's other overnight batsman, Jonathan Trott, ground out 10 runs in the morning from 61 deliveries, including a deflected four through third man. It was his former Under-19 colleague Harris, however, who finally ended his vigil, as Trott lost his patience and stormed out of the crease to take on the midwicket boundary, only for Harris to drift a well-directed arm-ball through the gate and into his leg stump.
Harris could have doubled his personal tally in his very next over, when he skidded a drifter millimetres over the top of Kevin Pietersen's middle stump. Though Pietersen did his best to keep his cool thereafter, the sluggish conditions did not suit his combative style and, having concentrated on working the ball through the leg-side for much of his 79-ball stay, he took on Morkel with a booming cover-drive, and inside-edged a good-length delivery into his leg stump.
That brought Bell to the crease at No. 6 - a position with which he has been comfortable in the past, but the situation did not suit his mindset one iota. He had nudged along to 5 from 14 balls when Harris served up an unthreatening off-stump length delivery, and to widespread astonishment, Bell played for non-existent turn and allowed the delivery to crash straight into his middle stump.
It was an ugly way to go, reminiscent of Adam Hollioake's aberration against Shane Warne in 1997, but in the circumstances, Matt Prior's departure was scarcely any better. A man more used to counterattacking cameos had been pinned down for 10 overs and 34 balls when, on 4, he sized up an ambitious sweep and plopped a simple chance straight into the hands of Friedel de Wet at deep midwicket.
In the course of England's meltdown, only Collingwood looked remotely comfortable with the conditions and the tempo of the reply, and he completed an excellent half-century from 87 balls when he swept Harris fine for four. One delivery later, however, he was on his way, as Harris tweaked one off his edge for Jacques Kallis to complete a simple low catch at slip. With his demise, it seemed that England's goose was cooked. But Swann, thrillingly, had other ideas.
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