SA stay alive with 'hungry' performance
Just as South Africa's situation had reached a do-or-die stage, they did.
Their bowlers pulled England back, from what could have become a 350-plus score, to take four for 22 in the dying stages of the innings and restrict them to 318. Then Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla set South Africa up for the highest successful chase at SuperSport Park, the only ground to have witnessed the team's success so far this summer. It was the performance of a team that was not willing to be defeated and it could be the start of a turnaround that will salvage South Africa's season.
"We were pretty desperate to get a result in this game. It's hopefully the signs of really good things to come," AB de Villiers said.
Two run-outs, good catches like JP Duminy's grab at leg-gully to dismiss Jos Buttler, and a fine fielding performance told de Villiers his team had recommitted to the cause. "You can always rate the morale of the side in the way they field out there and we showed a lot of hunger in the field, there were a lot of bodies being thrown around to stop the ball and great attitude," he said.
There was also a better balance to the South Africa XI after they dropped the seventh specialist batsman, replacing Rilee Rossouw with an allrounder, David Wiese. Although Wiese was expensive and the experiment to use him as a pinch-hitter at No.3 failed, he gave South Africa a level of security, knowing they had a fifth frontline bowler. De Villiers did not go as far as saying Wiese corrected any imbalances and insisted he just "brings a lot to the party with bat and ball in hand." Wiese's presence meant Duminy did not have to bowl at all and Farhaan Behardien was only used when Imran Tahir became a liability.
England have targeted Tahir, who has only two wickets in the series, but de Villiers is keeping the faith in his No.1 spinner. "He is one of the best bowlers in the word. He is still one of my go-to guys and he has got a lot of x-factor about him," de Villiers said. "He will play a role somewhere in this series and win a game for us and have an impact like we know he can."
Similarly, England continued to back the team that put them 2-0 up, which meant leaving Stuart Broad on the sidelines. Eoin Morgan did not think it was time to panic about including Broad for experience's sake just yet but will consider him for the next match as England aim to seal the series. "Today we didn't hit our straps. We have two spinners, variation with the two left-armers and Stokes and Jordan for a bit of pace," he said. "I've considered tweaking the attack every game so we will consider it again.
The fourth match, or South Africa's second final, is the pink match in aid of breast cancer at the Wanderers. The hosts have never lost in pink and if history repeats itself, that could set the series up for a grand showdown in Cape Town on Sunday. But England still hold all the aces.
Their strength is their batting line-up which Morgan said was only getting more confident as they keep piling on runs. "Our batting unit seemed to grow every game that they play and that's hugely encouraging. We haven't had any hiccups yet," he said. "Joe Root showed his class, scoring another hundred, and his experience now is that of a leader within the group and that's great to see."
South Africa will feel they have something similar in de Kock, especially when both he and Amla get going. "If you get good solid starts, it's easier for the batting line-up to understand the rhythm of the game and get your pace right. It just frees the middle order up a lot," de Villiers explained. Now the hosts have to hope their advantage has not come too late.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent