South Africa are prepared for the reality that they may not be able to win the Newlands Test against England, but they are not quite ready to accept defeat yet. On a surface that flattened out after 18 wickets fell on the first two days, coach Mark Boucher believes a long second innings is possible, whether his men go for glory or a gritty draw.
"There's a Test match up for grabs. There are times that the characters have to come out. We understand our batters are under pressure. If we can bowl them out and look at a total worth chasing, we must do that, but good teams also manage to block out draws," Boucher said. "Depending on how well we bowl tomorrow and if we get quick wickets then hopefully we can go for a chase, otherwise we are going to have to fight and bat out a day or a day-and-a-half."
Conditions at Newlands changed significantly on the third day when cloud cover and cooler weather prevented the cracks on the pitch from opening up and made run-scoring a lot easier than on the first two days. Then, Boucher wouldn't have wanted "to chase anything more than 250". Now, he thinks "anything around 330 or 340 will be great".
First, South Africa need to take six England wickets. The quicker, the better. Even though it will give James Anderson and Co more time to get South Africa out, it will also mean fewer runs to chase. That's the conundrum the team that is not in control of the game faces, and Boucher knows it. "Let's be honest, our backs are up against it," he said. "If we come out tomorrow, new ball in hand, and we use it well, we believe we can pick up quick wickets but it's still going to be a tall ask."
Especially given that batting has been South Africa's weaker suit over the last year.
With inexperience running through half the top six and no totals over 300 in their last seven innings, South Africa do not look like a side that can chase down a big target, never mind break a record. The highest successful chase in Cape Town is the 334 Australia scored almost 18 years ago, when they were the best team in the world. Since readmission, Australia are the only team South Africa have lost to at this ground, with England earning a hard-fought draw here in 2010.
Boucher was part of the XI that played against England a decade ago, two years after South Africa had done what many thought was impossible and successfully chased a 400-plus target in Australia, which led to a series win. "Back when we played, we wouldn't even think of chasing 400-odd but we did it in Perth and we took a lot of confidence out of that," he recalled.
For Boucher, the key to the Perth win was the planning that went into the chase and he will try to do approach this match in the same meticulous way over the next two days. "You have to break it down, and there's a lot of strategic planning that needs to go into it. If we look at the way they played Keshav [Maharaj], we might have to be a little bit more positive against [Dom] Bess if we are going for the total," Boucher said, indicating South Africa would take on the England spinner. "You don't chase down totals like that without partnerships, big partnerships.
"If one or two guys get into a position where they can bat long and get big hundreds then we can get ourselves into a position where we can think of chasing the target. There's still a lot of work to be done. We've still got to bowl them out. If conditions allow us to go for the chase, I'm sure there's a lot of guys in the change room who would love to do that."