South Africa v England, 4th Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day January 16, 2010

England are battered in the Bullring

South Africa have buried England's hopes. Now only the weather can stop them

Late on the third day the Bullring lived up to its hostile reputation as South Africa's quick bowlers were roared on by a passionate home support. It was only a 13-over passage of play, wrapped around a delay for bad light, but it was as thrilling as anything witnessed in this series. South Africa haven't always been at their powerful best in recent weeks, but that mini-session with the ball capped off a day in which they buried England's hopes. Now only the weather can stop them.

Everything was in the bowlers' favour, but South Africa made it count, which is often easier said than done when the expectation is that wickets will come. Morne Morkel forced Alastair Cook to play a ball just outside off stump; Dale Steyn had Andrew Strauss flat on his back with a rapid bouncer; Jonathan Trott was given his second working-over of the match before edging to third slip, and Wayne Parnell bagged his first Test wicket.

Driving them on to greater deeds was a crowd baying for English wickets. Saturday brought with it the best support of the game and the Wanderers was almost vibrating as Steyn and Morkel ran in. It made for an unforgiving atmosphere as the South African supporters had seen enough of gritty England. Now was the time to level the scores. Words were exchanged when Morkel struck Strauss a nasty blow on the gloves and the tension was adding to an already sultry Johannesburg evening.

The debutant, Parnell, who had looked nervous in the first innings rode on the emotion as he claimed his first Test wicket by trapping Strauss lbw - a hammer blow to England's fading hopes. This was hard Test cricket, and it was South Africa making all the running. It has been that way throughout the match, and was the pattern that many had expected the series to follow.

"What's positive for us is that there's a little more in this wicket than in the two games where we couldn't manage a win," said Mark Boucher, whose crunching 95 set up the declaration. "I think with two days to bat [for England] we believe we have the bowling attack to take seven more wickets. That doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels, England have saved two Tests, so we're not too comfortable but are quietly confident."

England haven't been in the match since Strauss fell to the first ball of the game. The closest they came to battling back was when they took three for 18 in the morning session to leave South Africa on 235 for 5. But that's where the fightback stopped, and it actually didn't do the hosts any harm to lose a few wickets. They weren't going to change their gameplan and having the attacking figures of Boucher and AB de Villiers in the middle worked perfectly for them.

They both played the ideal innings for the situations, but it was Boucher who stood out with a textbook declaration-setting display. South Africa's biggest challenge in this game is coming not from the opposition but from the weather, and Smith had to judge his call correctly. That was easier said than done for a team prone to conservatism, but while Boucher was at the crease the game was moving in the right direction at the required speed, and he never played for his own century.

"We didn't expect to lose as many wickets in the first hour," Boucher said. "England bowled really well and got their rewards and they bowled well yesterday too without any reward. After that we dominated the rest of the day and picking up three wickets was a real bonus for us as well."

Boucher's mighty Test record is often overlooked, but in the course of his 95 he became just the second gloveman after Adam Gilchrist to pass 5000 runs. That is quite some achievement, and it's hard to believe some questioned his place in the side before this series.

"I don't play cricket for my critics, but they'll always be there," he said. "I try using the criticism I get and take the positives out of it. If there's stuff that really gets to me I try and use it as a motivation. I've worked really hard in the off-season on fitness and it's good to see the hard work you put in can pay off."

His innings ground England down and the way they shipped three wickets before the close, albeit against fine bowling, gave the impression of a side whose fight was dwindling. "I've toured quite a few places before and when it gets towards the end it can be pretty tough," Boucher said. "They say one foot is on the plane already - I'm not saying that's the case with England - but we've had them under pressure for five or six days of Test cricket now and pressure does eventually get to do you."

It will take something extraordinary - from England's remaining batsmen or, more likely, from the heavens - to deny South Africa from here.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

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