Chasing just 74, England couldn’t have had a worse start late on Day 4 in Galle!
The number 438 is etched in South Africa’s cricketing folklore.
It was the score that South Africa made while chasing down a score of 435 way back in 2006 in Johannesburg in an ODI against Australia to achieve the cricketing incomprehensible. Two years later, the Proteas aced another chase of 400-plus in Perth against Australia in whites to accomplish the inconceivable.
Now, after more than a decade, the opportunity to breach another record has arrived on their doorstep. Although a win is still a long way off at the Newlands against the Englishmen, Mark Boucher was optimistic of witnessing another moment of glory or escape, this time as a coach. He displayed this bullish attitude at the end of the third day when the tourists took the upper hand with a lead of 264.
Despite 18 wickets falling in the first two days, the cracks haven’t opened up much on the surface. The former wicketkeeper stated that it all depended on how their bowlers fared on Day 4, then their batsmen could scrap to chase anything between 330 to 340.
However, it didn’t turn out in the hosts’ favour in the morning of Day 4. Dom Sibley looked more fluent and unshakable than the previous day and reached his maiden Test century to end up eventually unbeaten on 133. From the other end, Ben Stokes launched an onslaught against a tiring bowling attack to add 72 from 92 along with the centurion.
England realised that the cracks haven’t surfaced in the pitch and their bowlers needed time to make inroads in the South African batting line-up.
Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, and Stuart Broad did their part to leave the hosts to chase 438 in a day and a half. The South African side prior to this series may have lied down. But this is a Proteas outfit that has Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Graeme Smith at their helm, who headed a powerful cricketing dynasty as players.
By the looks of how South Africa finished their day, the spirit of the Smith-led side of 2008 had infused the current crew.
From the first over, Pieter Malan had clarity as to where his off stump was located. Malan and Dean Elgar put on 71 for the first wicket, their second-highest opening stand in the last two years. Not only did he negotiate the fuller deliveries from James Anderson and the short-pitched deliveries from Stuart Broad, but Malan also used his feet against Dom Bess and Joe Denly to reach his maiden Test 50.
Temperament and determination, more than anything else, defined his knock.
South Africa reached 2-126 at stumps, still 312 runs away. Whether or not South Africa pull this off, they would be relieved to know that their top order is gradually picking up stability.
If South Africa are to win this, they will have to go past Australia’s record of chasing down 334 against them on this ground. Ground history is against them. Recent run-chase history may fall marginally on their side. But the ball is still in England’s court.
The weather forecast for the final day is expected to be warmer so the cracks may well open in a flash. The new ball is also due before lunch. Joe Root’s men may find themselves levelling the series somewhere in the afternoon.
But South Africa, in the past, have marched into zones where only the rarest of the teams have been. If not a reprise of Johannesburg 2006 or Perth 2008, the Proteas can undoubtedly do an Adelaide 2012 or Johannesburg 2013 to at least force a draw.