South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 5th day January 6, 2016

England survive scare but South Africa are buoyed

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England 629 for 6 dec (Stokes 258, Bairstow 150*, Hales 60, Root 50) and 159 for 6 (Bairstow 30*, Piedt 3-38) drew with South Africa 627 for 7 dec (Amla 201, Bavuma 102*, de Villiers 88, du Plessis 86, Morris 69)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Play 04:33
Haysman: 'Amla decision will strengthen South Africa'

From nowhere, a smouldering Newlands Test burst into life. A final day that many anticipated would bring unbearable drudgery became an urgent England battle for survival. Fourth-day slumbers threatened to turn into something darker and more disturbing.

When rain and bad light intervened in the sixth over of the final session England could already rest easy, their lead 161 with four wickets left, but the monsters had felt real, never quite in view, but sensed enough to disturb the mind.

Forbidding clouds clung to Table Mountain, where some England supporters had strolled the previous day to pass the time with the Test at its most inactive. The pitch remained sound for a fifth day, but there was swing around for the first time in the Test in muggy conditions. As the pressure mounted, there was some turn too, as three wickets for the offspinner Dane Piedt testified.

The most damning critics of this Newlands surface discovered their judgment had been, at best, premature, at worst largely invalidated. The pitch did not quite wear sufficiently and there was a period on the fourth morning when Hashim Amla was on his lengthy constitutional that the Test was in stalemate, but even then taking wickets was not impossible: England dropped nine catches in South Africa's second innings after all, and must have fleetingly wondered if they would regret it.

South Africa's slim chance of victory was probably extinguished 15 minutes before tea when Jonny Bairstow survived a stumping in Dean Elgar's first over by the narrowest margin - Rod Tucker's not-out ruling taking so long that they lost an over in the process. England led by 149 with 38 overs left, Bairstow cut the next ball to the boundary and a melancholic drizzle began to fall.

Is there any first-innings score where a Test side can feel absolutely safe these days? England's declaration at 629 for 6 smacked of impregnability, but they were alarmed to find that it was not the case. The climax became a battle for survival: three wickets lost in the first hour, six by drinks in mid-afternoon.

A draw always remained by far the likeliest result, but English stomachs were queasy. South Africa, so bereft midway through the second day, had enjoyed a restorative time since then and, assuming they go to the highveld still 1-0 down in the series, they will go with a new sense of purpose.

It used to be assumed that 400 on first innings made a Test side pretty much impregnable. That assumption, in terms of England's history at least, was forever destroyed at Adelaide in 2006 when England declared on 551 for 6 only to lose by six wickets after batting meekly against Shane Warne and co on the final day.

Now even 600-plus was no guarantee of safety as every member of South Africa's quartet struck by lunch. England made 71 in the session, batting with enough purpose to stretch the lead, but the dangers were apparent. Ben Stokes had batted so quickly for his first-innings 258 that the time available in the Test seemed to have expanded as a result, a fact that Amla, in particular, had used to his advantage in South Africa's reply.

Alastair Cook departed in the second over of the morning, falling to a leg-side push to the wicketkeeper, not for the first time, as Kagiso Rabada attacked his pads, a captain unable to kill the contest. Alex Hales followed in the next over, an unconvincing push away from his body at Morne Morkel, and a wonderful catch by Chris Morris at third slip.

Morris has taken two slip catches in this Test that will not be bettered all year - Cook in the first innings, flinging himself low to his left, now equally razor-sharp reflexes to his right to hold another stunning low catch. He can be happy with his Test debut, and if Dale Steyn is fit for Johannesburg South Africa's selectors will have much pondering ahead of them.

If Nick Compton had fallen in between, first ball, England's situation would have been even more parlous. Rabada rapped into his pads, full and straight, but a review revealed an inside edge. It was enough for Compton to drop anchor. He would be sailing nowhere in a hurry.

With time of the essence, South Africa could not afford any delay. They removed Joe Root for 29 when Morris, with his first ball, exposed tentative footwork with one that straightened to hit off stump, but they might have got him on 18, four overs earlier, when Morkel had him caught by de Villiers at second slip only to have overstepped.

It was left primarily to James Taylor to fashion a response, but even he needed a let-off when Rabada made a thrilling effort at short fine leg to claim a top-edged sweep, looking on in despair as the ball fell from his grasp when his elbow crashed into the turf.

Piedt, the unlucky bowler, was not to be denied. By lunch, he was also in the wickets column, Compton's suspicious innings ended by extra flight and a loose clip to short mid-on.

All it needed was for a couple of balls to career off the size 11 hole that Stuart Broad had made in the pitch in frustration at a dropped catch the previous day - his aggravated response to the umpire's intervention bringing him a fine - and it would have capped England's uncomfortable morning.

Stokes was an obvious threat. Such is his rate of scoring that an hour of him would be terminal for South Africa. His 26 from 34 balls eased England's nerves, but every time they sensed safety another wicket fell. Stokes had swept Piedt convincingly behind square but the bowler shrewdly offered him a repeat and this time his control was lacking, a top-edge sailing to Morkel at deep square.

Taylor played England's most well-balanced innings, but he succumbed, too - a third wicket for Piedt as the ball gripped and brushed the glove before settling at short leg. It was left to Bairstow and Moeen Ali to banish the monsters.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • simplythebest... on January 8, 2016, 8:25 GMT

    @burn_addict. Hales should definitely be persevered with through this series, and also be given a shot at the first home series against Sri Lanka where conditions will be more familiar. After all he is the first of Cooks partners to reach a 50 for quite some time, and he has also scored more runs than Cook himself this series! Only if he is still failing after the Sri Lanka series should another option be pursued - County Cricket will be under way by then, and someone might be shining at the top of the order for their county.

  • burn_addict on January 8, 2016, 7:51 GMT

    England really have issues @ the top of the order, mainly because of the number of different partners Cook has had since Strauss. But it easy to critisize that or the partners. How about Cook? Ive never played the game, but I would think it would be VERY difficult to bat with someone who bats slow even when he's on form (and you're the only one expected to "hurry it up" as it were) and also someone whose place in the team is more secured than yours, even if he's not performing. I know I will get alot of flack from Eng and Cook fans for this, but for me, its not fair on his partners.

  • JG2704 on January 8, 2016, 7:45 GMT

    @ENGLISHMANABROAD ON JANUARY 7, 2016, 14:18 GMT - Could by the same token mean that JB and Stokes become complacent as they found it really easy. Scoring runs on any sort of pitch is more likely to do you good than harm

  • JG2704 on January 7, 2016, 21:41 GMT

    @PADDY1984 ON JANUARY 7, 2016, 13:11 GMT - Not seen much of him keeping wicket but someone else said the same thing before - although it may also have been you

  • BHAARATVARSH on January 7, 2016, 20:12 GMT

    Can't wait for Ind vs Aus to being, after snoozing off watching paint dry in this dull travesty of a test match! It could have been so much better save for the pancake pitch.

  • Jose...P on January 7, 2016, 17:41 GMT

    @PADDY1984 ON JANUARY 7, 2016, 13:15 GMT:

    Just on Kookaburra:

    *

    1. In its very early days, it used to be outsourced from small third party suppliers, most of whom used to sew them up manually. Seam was very prominent (and a wee bit uneven) in those days & bowlers used to enjoy that.

    2. Second phase in its evolution was triggered by semi-automation and automation. The unevenness in the manual sewing got eliminated. Seam also became less prominent.

    3. In Phase 3, that is, in recent years (I guess more than a decade & a half), the seam became even less prominent. It coincided with the increasing pandering of batsmen through multiple routes & rule changes.

    Whether the broadcasters who make huge bids for rights & hence would love to have full-five-days lasting tests (for better ROI) had any direct /indirect influence in phase 3, is something I would love to leave it your thoughts, Paddy.

  • captainhansie on January 7, 2016, 16:03 GMT

    The lack of swing in the air for the first four days was disappointing. I saw one of the greatest demonstrations of swing bowling at Newlands during December 1987 between Western Province and Orange Free State. Stephen Jeffries, bowling into the wind took 10/59, in an unbroken spell of 23.5 overs. Garth Le Roux bowled 15 overs for 29 from the other side while the other luckless bowlers were Dave Rundle and Eric Simons. The wickets included Alvin Kallicharan and Allan Lamb and the last to fall was Allan Donald. I don't know where the swing went, but it'd be nice if it came back.

  • TommytuckerSaffa on January 7, 2016, 14:52 GMT

    "PADDY1984 There is something seriously wrong with the Kookaburra ball. Its seems like its being replaced 3 to 4 times every Test innings in SA and Australia which is simply unacceptable. Pollock says the Duke doesnt handle SA conditions well when they trial-edit. West Indies ones have an extra layer of lacquer on them. I think someone in the QC department needs to be sacked.

  • Englishmanabroad on January 7, 2016, 14:18 GMT

    Looking forward to Jo'burg, if England can maintain their confidence and approach (after giving away what should have been win number two), then I thing the next two tests are going to be great to watch. I will not predict a winner, however if there is some swing/seam, and maybe some turn for the spinner(s) then I have to say that I think England must start out slight favourites. (especially if Philander and Steyn don't make it.) The performances by Amla/AB/DuP on the flat Cape Town pitch might actually work against them, providing "false" confidence, which could be easily shattered on a pitch providing movement and assistance to the bowlers.

  • markbrop on January 7, 2016, 13:42 GMT

    SirViv1973: "The alternative might be that they join Steyn & Morkel in a 4 pronged seam attack, with Elgar asked to perform the spinning duties."

    Can they do that though? Piedt has to play because of the quota system. Otherwise Duminy must come back.

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