SA leave England tough 346 to win - 08-19-2012, 01:45 PM
Hashim Amla continued to defy England as he approached another hundred © AFP
England will need to make 346 - a higher successful fourth-innings run chase than they have ever achieved - to beat South Africa in the final Test at Lord's and preserve their No 1 Test ranking.
The pitch remained relatively true and, in theory at least, there remained time for England to achieve victory, with the likely run rate around 3.5 runs an over. But it is a massive task and South Africa would be confident that, barring something extraordinary, their elevation to the top of the Test rankings should only be a matter of time.
It took England another 17.2 overs after tea to remove South Africa's last three wickets.
Vernon Philander's dismissal owed much to good fortune as Jimmy Anderson overbalanced slightly in footholes that have troubled him periodically throughout the match and delivered a wide long hop which Philander carved to Jonny Bairstow at backward point.
Morne Morkel fell to a smart piece of wicketkeeping from Matt Prior who waited for his back foot to lift in the air momentarily before removing the bails. Jimmy Andersom cleaned up Imran Tahir to the roars of the Lord's crowd, the fourth successive full house, for whom hope sprang eternal.
Tea South Africa 309 and 306 for 7 (Duminy 18*, Philander 11*, Finn 4-60) lead England 315 by 300 runs
In the opening scene of the Coen brothers' movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? a chain gang in 1930s Mississipi is seen breaking rocks while singing Po Lazarus, a negro spiritual song. Bowling at South Africa throughout this series has left England's badly in need of a spiritual song as they have repeatedly foundered on the array of boulders that constitute South Africa's batting line-up.
Hashim Amla's unyielding 121 had left South Africa on the verge of replacing England as the top-ranked Test side in the world and condemned England on the hottest day of the year in London to a disheartening experience of chipping away stubbornly at immovable objects on a sedate pitch with the sense that balls and chains were around their feet.
As South Africa went into tea on the fourth day at Lord's with a lead of 300, and three wickets intact, they would be assured that only one team had ever chased down more than that in the fourth innings at Lord's - the 1984 West Indies, who rampaged to victory with a double century by Gordon Greenidge, a man who as the song observes about Po Lazarus, took some arresting.
Amla was 57 overnight and when he back-cut Jonathan Trott to reach his hundred in the first full over of the afternoon - Trott bowling because the second new ball was only two overs away - it was his first boundary of the day. He dealt in placement, a batsman of immense certainty and subtlety.
That England hoped, even if it was increasingly against all logic, owed much to Steven Finn. Just when it looked as if South Africa were bound for safety at 259 for 4, a lead of 253, Finn produced a pre-tea spell of 3 for 19 in seven overs, including the vital wicket of Amla for 121, to keep depression at bay.
Finn does not strike you as a man much given to spiritual songs - he does not even look as if he would make much of a fist of karaoke - but once Stuart Broad and James Anderson had taken that new ball to no avail, he was introduced into the attack and plotted England's last, desperate attempt to escape.
In the first innings, he cut one back to bowl Amla through the gate, this time he straightened one to bowl him past the outside edge. AB de Villiers was unhinged by a ball that bounced and left him, giving Andrew Strauss, at first slip, his 12st catch, a record for an England outfielder, taking him beyond Ian Botham and Colin Cowdrey. Jacques Rudolph, a left-hander attacked from around the wicket, edged another ball that held its line and edged to the wicketkeeper.
Finn had taken four wickets in the first innings, but he had struggled for rhythm, just as he had in the second Test at Headingley, his habit of nudging the stumps with his knees at the bowler's end not helping his state of mind.
At Lord's, his home ground, his presence returned, as did his ability to leave the right hander. He bowled well from the start of the day, as if he recognised that this was England's final opportunity, and a slim opportunity at that, and the urgency of the situation made him remember what he was: a fast bowler.
The likelihood was, though, that Amla's century had settled the series. He had been missed on 2 down the leg side by Matt Prior the previous day, his first drop standing back for two years, and he made England suffer. His consummate response to all that England's offspinner, Graeme Swann, could throw at him, was a major indication of South Africa's authority.
England made their task of recovering the series at the last more difficult with another blemish in the field. Anderson's fumble, diving forward to intercept a simple catch at short midwicket off Swann left the batsman, de Villiers, on 8, looking on in wonder. Strauss also missed a very difficult chance at slip, also off Swann, when Duminy, on 4, carved at the offspinner and the ball struck Strauss on the wrist at pace. England needed to accept every opportunity going.
South Africa led by 210 runs at lunch after a morning in which they added only 65 runs in 26.4 overs, a largely featureless session in which they only lost the nightwatchman Dale Steyn - not much more than a pebble as South African batting rocks go - and again displayed the sort of batting durability to which England have had few answers.
Steyn was treated to a barrage of short balls. He had been struck on the top hand (his left) the previous evening and the physion was trotting out with the pain-relief spray within minutes of the resumption as Finn hit him again. He clung on on gamely for nearly nine overs until Broad produced a rearing delivery which he could only lob gently to James Taylor at short leg.
Anderson's over use of the short ball also led him to receive an official warning from the umpire, Simon Taufel, to go alongside the warning he had received from the other umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, the previous day for running on the pitch.
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