The Oval, day three: SA 403-2

At the start of today the match was well set up between South Africa and England. At stumps it is well set up between South Africa and the draw. England bowled very well for the first hour and decently well all day, but had no help from the weather, pitch or batsmen. Graeme Smith survived a working over from Graeme Swann, but after that it was one-way traffic as South Africa batted and batted and batted. The one wicket that fell in the day, Smith bowled by Bresnan, was even a bit fortuitous as it came off an inside edge, pad and boot before tricking onto the stumps.

South Africa batted very, very well today. One does not expect Smith, Amla and Kallis to bat poorly, of course, but this was special by even their standards. England could not have done a lot more than they did. Whilst there was the usual slight lack of inventiveness by Strauss and Bresnan was very underbowled, there was never much of an impression that it would have made a difference. For the most part, England did what I suggested they do yesterday. Anderson, Broad and Bresnan all mostly bowled wide of off stump; the only exceptions were the occasional bits of waywardness. There was just about enough of that waywardness that the batsmen could still get runs however and with no swing at all there was never a lot of danger for them. All they had to do was avoid making the sort of mistakes that Trott and KP did for England, at which they succeeded with aplomb.

South Africa had enough time to take a lead of 18 runs into the close with eight wickets still in hand. With two days (187 overs by my understanding) left in the match the question is now not whether England can pull off a victory, but whether South Africa can get enough to win with enough time left to force a victory. It is something with which they have struggled a bit in the relatively recent past. They have declared in either the second or third innings of a match ten times in the past three years and managed to win in just three of them. Also in the last three years they have played 23 matches and won nine of them, but failed to bowl their opposition out on the last day eight times. Smith is very conservative with his declarations and I think he will be looking for at least a lead of 200. (Given that he usually bats for about fifty runs beyond what I think the highest reasonable total is, he could be headed for 650.) Unless Smith is much more aggressive than usual or England’s bowlers allow them to score very quickly, South Africa will probably have to bat past tea tomorrow which will not leave them a lot of time on what is still a very flat wicket. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow changes things, but right now I think the draw is the most likely result.

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