On another tough day of Test cricket, England were indebted to Marcus Trescothick for holding their second innings together with an unbeaten 101, as they closed on 197 for 5, a lead of 189. A late collapse of three wickets in 25 balls unsettled them towards the end, however, and it was South Africa who finished the day with a slight advantage.
"We're still in a position to win it," insisted Trescothick. "If we bat well tomorrow and get a lead of 300, then without a doubt we've got a chance on that wicket. It's been pretty uneven throughout, and now the cracks are beginning to dry out. You could see that the movement wasn't normal, even when the ball was 50 overs old, so if you get it in the right place, you've got a chance."
England's prospects have been hampered, however, by the probable loss of Steve Harmison from their bowling attack. He pulled up with a calf injury in the first innings, and Trescothick admitted his absence was a blow. "To lose your No. 1 bowler is a worry, and it'll take a massive effort to win the game from here. But all the preparation we've been doing is for these moments. It's up to the individuals to keep doing their jobs."
England made a particularly forthright start to their second innings, as Trescothick and Michael Vaughan rattled along at five an over in the early stages. "That was just how things happened," Trescothick shrugged. "We are both positive players, and if the ball is there to hit, we'll hit it. But we had to fight hard, and I didn't play well for the first 40 or 50 runs. If we can come out with a win then it'll mean a lot to me, because I know how hard I worked."
It was the South Africans, however, who were especially buoyant by the close. Nicky Boje stood in as captain for most of the day after Graeme Smith had suffered a mild concussion in the pre-match warm-up, and agreed that his team had picked up the scent of victory. "The key will be the first session," he said. "We need to bowl well, but the wicket is playing nicely and we'll definitely give it a go if we get the opportunity."
Boje went on: "We don't mind chasing on this wicket. It's quite a fast outfield, and if you can get through the inner ring the ball usually goes for four. The scoring rate has been three-and-a-half runs an over throughout the match, and though things were 50/50 at the start of play, the game is going a little our way at the mo."
And he concluded: "We tend to play well in our own country. We started the series badly, pulled it back in Durban, and then won in Cape Town. We've got a young team, and we're getting better every game. So if this one does finish as a draw, then we'll have to see how things go [at Centurion] next week."
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following England on their tour of South Africa.