LONDON: For almost two decades South Africa have toured England, won the Test series and lopped off the head of the opposing captain in the process.
But not anymore. This time they have provided lift off for the Joe Root era with England in charge of the fourth Investec Test and on the verge of beating South Africa in a home series for the first time since 1998.
South Africa are in deep trouble. They slipped from 83 for three to 220 for nine and trail England by 142. They were hit hard by James Anderson, bowling from his own end, and carried to the crease on an adrenaline rush that saw the years fall away.
It was the turning point the match was waiting for and when he followed it up with the wicket of Theunis de Bruyn England had broken through and were sensing a big first innings lead.
South Africa never really recovered their mojo after England’s last wicket stand of 50 when Anderson played the sleeping partner to Jonny Bairstow. His thrilling display of hitting and wise farming of the strike hurt South Africa just when it looked as though they would dismiss England for an under par total. That Bairstow fell for 99 was a shame but few keeper batsmen in the world could have played such an innings and it underlined what a special cricketer he has matured into over the past two years.
South Africa have to win to level the series but they were cautious with the bat and once again they could not find anyone to play the decisive innings.
England bowled well with Moeen Ali turning the ball from the Brian Statham End and the seamers all accurate and finding zip off the pitch. England’s only blot was their fielding with two missed run out opportunities and two dropped catches in the slip cordon of varying degrees of difficulty. Had those been held England would have been batting long before the close.
Still reeling from the hiding by Bairstow, South Africa lost their first wicket to the third ball of the innings when Dean Elgar, their only century maker in the series, shuffled across and was hit right in line of middle and off to give Anderson his first wicket.