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December 29, 2009
South Africa 343 (Kallis 75, Smith 75) and 76 for 6 (Boucher 20*, Morkel 7*) trail England 574 for 9 dec (Bell 140, Cook 118) by 155 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A sensational collapse of six wickets for 23 in 71 balls left South Africa clinging to the wreckage of their second innings at Kingsmead, as Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann capitalised on an aggressive finale to England's innings to tear the heart out of their opponents' batting line-up, and propel their team towards victory on an extraordinary fourth day's play.
By the close, South Africa were reeling at 76 for 6, and even that grim scoreline had to be salvaged by a dour seventh-wicket stand of 26 between Mark Boucher and Morne Morkel. Together they endured for 10.5 overs before bad light brought salvation, but with just four wickets still standing and a deficit of 156 runs still remaining to be wiped off, England were circling for the kill after one of their most dominant days of recent times.
The day had begun with England well placed on 386 for 5, a lead of 43, and thanks to the efforts of Ian Bell, who converted his overnight 55 into an excellent 140, Andrew Strauss was able to declare on 574 for 9 in the first half-hour after lunch, with a handy 232-run lead in the bag, and the best part of five sessions in which to turn the screw. For the first nine overs of South Africa's innings, however, there was barely a flicker of alarm as Graeme Smith and Ashwell Prince negotiated the new ball. But then, with tea looming, Swann entered the attack to devastating effect.
Swann's habit of taking wickets early in his spells is rapidly turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. He memorably claimed two scalps in the first over of his Test career, against India in Chennai last December, and in last week's first Test at Centurion he dislodged Prince with his second delivery of the series. Sure enough, his introduction paid instant dividends, as Prince once again propped forward uneasily, for Bell at silly point to cling on superbly as the ball rebounded off an inside-edge and into his outstretched right hand.
Twelve Swann deliveries later, and 27 for 0 had become 37 for 2, as the obdurate Hashim Amla was undone by a wonderful double-whammy on the stroke of tea. The first ball of his third over was tossed up outside off, and took a fat inside-edge as Amla leaned into a cover-drive. The second ball was a fraction fuller and equally well flighted, and Amla was comprehensively gated as the ball burst out of rough and into his stumps.
Far from taking solace in the tea break that followed, South Africa's anxieties were heightened by the 20-minute interlude. Jacques Kallis can generally be relied upon to bat throughout any given crisis, but Broad's second ball of the session was simply too good. Pitching outside off and seaming wickedly back off a perfect length, it crashed into Kallis's off stump as he shouldered arms for 3, and at 40 for 3, England were rampant.
AB de Villiers had a massive let-off before he had scored, when Swann believed he'd found his outside edge, but the referred decision proved inconclusive in the absence of the snickometer. His reprieve lasted all of eight balls, however. In Broad's very next over, he produced a carbon-copy of the delivery that had done for Kallis, and this time the review could not save de Villiers, as he shouldered arms in front of off stump, and was sent on his way for 2.
Broad by now was in the same full-length rhythm that had routed Australia at The Oval in August, and no-one it seemed could resist him. One ball later, JP Duminy also succumbed to a misjudged leave, as he hoisted his bat high above his head, and deflected the ball into the base of his off stump, and though Boucher averted the hat-trick, he couldn't prevent a further meltdown. At the start of that Broad over, Smith could have run himself out for 16 had the substitute, Luke Wright, hit the stumps with a shy from short cover. Instead, it was Swann who ended his stay, as he straightened an offspinner from round the wicket, and an overbalanced Smith was pinned lbw for 22.
The breathlessness of the final session was at complete odds with the serenity of England's own progress earlier in the day. Bell's 140 was the backbone of their fourth-day performance, as he compiled an innings of grace and determination that ensured that his team did not squander their overnight advantage. Few players in the world game look so compact and composed when given licence to play their natural game, and that is exactly what he produced as he closed in on an a 172-ball century.
His morning was launched in confident style when Dale Steyn served up a leg-stump loosener that was clipped emphatically through square leg for four, and suitably emboldened, he set about putting bat to ball on his own terms, opening and closing the face at will to work singles into the numerous gaps at midwicket and backward point. He added just one more boundary as he moved towards the nineties - a steer through third man as Makhaya Ntini offered too much width - but having milked Paul Harris's defensive leg-stump line with a series of deft sweeps, he moved to his hundred in style with an open-shouldered loft over long-on.
Bell's celebrations were a clear release of emotion, as he punched the air with his bat, and kissed the England badge on his shirt. His critics have grown in number since the last time he reached three figures, again against South Africa at Lord's in July 2008, and they will still be able to point to the peculiar fact that he has never yet produced a hundred without one of his fellow batsmen doing likewise. But for now, all he was doing was laying a platform for an England victory push, and by the close, there was no quibbling with the importance or the timing of his performance.
At the other end, Matt Prior injected some welcome urgency to the innings with a well-paced 60 from 81 balls, and though he eventually under-edged a drive from Duminy into his off stump, England's lead by that stage was already 134, and with a naturally aggressive tail to follow, the stage was set for some fireworks. At first, however, the response was disappointing, as Bell and Broad bedded in for the final hour of the session, mustering 36 runs from 91 balls. Immediately after lunch, however, England kicked into overdrive.
Broad, who had taken 51 deliveries over his first 10 runs, signalled the onslaught by smashing Harris for six over cow corner in an over that went for 15 runs. He was subsequently caught at slip for 20 to give Duminy his third of the innings, but Swann emerged with his mindset plain to see. He laid into the toiling Ntini, claiming a six and a four from the final two balls of an over that had already leaked five overthrows, before chipping a leading edge to Prince, as Steyn found some lively swing with the third new ball.
Steyn's swing also accounted for Bell in his very next over, as he toe-ended a cut to the keeper, and Strauss's decision to declare was hastened by the sight of an Ntini bouncer crashing off the badge of Graham Onions' helmet and away for four leg-byes. Though England found little assistance with the new ball, Swann's staggering self-confidence made the difference on a bland track, and by the close, they were within touching distance of a remarkable victory.
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