England vs South Africa: Bad light robs hosts of an early party, but Proteas could have preponed home flight – Firstcricket News, Firstpost


So about that sixth day…

Bad light might have dragged these sides back for a paltry few overs tomorrow, but any agonising about rearranging South Africa’s flight home has proved to be wildly unnecessary.

England sit 33 runs from sealing victory at The Oval, and a 2-1 series win, with all ten wickets in hand – which would take something quite extraordinary, either cricketing or meteorological to deny them.

For all the Bazball jokes and eye-rolling worldwide, England have been a side reborn under Brendon McCullum and the captaincy of Ben Stokes, instilled with the confidence and bravado that their skipper can’t help but emanate every time he steps out on a cricket field.

It was perhaps that more than anything that has carried them to the brink of a victory here. England were in truth fairly diabolical from around the Tea break yesterday until shortly before lunch today – on Day Three they blundered from 84/2 to 154/7 by the close, and followed that up with the loss of their final three wickets for just four runs inside the first 15 minutes of Day Four. Then a sloppy start with the ball saw South Africa knock off the deficit of 40 runs with relative ease.

Predictably it was Stokes who stepped up to change the direction of the match, removing Sarel Erwee before lunch and reinstalling that almost unearned sense of belief that this was a Test match that England were winning by the close.

It always helps to have a slice of luck to go with your confidence and England were granted that after lunch, Dean Elgar’s curious decision not to review when given out LBW – to a ball later revealed to be missing the stumps considerably – certainly tipped things in England’s favour.

However it was good fortune that they did very well to make the most of, Stuart Broad probably the standout – and seemingly never far from whipping up encouragement from the crowd – but ably supported by Ollie Robinson, James Anderson, and Stokes, as South Africa’s attempts to post any sort of meaningful target crumbled forlornly as the afternoon wore on.

Broad’s three wickets took him past Glenn McGrath to outright ownership of the fifth place in the all-time Test wicket-takers list, Anderson of course the only other seamer ahead of him. Against that kind of experience perhaps it is no wonder South Africa’s callow batting card fared so badly.

Fortunately, from their point of view, at least, when it came for England to bat again, they were much improved on the morning’s feeble effort – hoping to knock off the meagre target of 130 by the end of the day’s play.

Alex Lees admittedly was fortunate to survive being dropped off the first ball of the innings and looked less than fluent throughout, but at the other end, Zak Crawley gave another glimpse of just why England are prepared to invest so much time in his Test match career.

Before the close, he had his first 50 of the summer, received by a boisterous Oval crowd with a standing ovation no less, and scored off just 36 balls with a handsome elegance off both front and back foot.

England were cruising towards the finish line, and with the tantalising prospect of Broad padded up to come in next – in his long-awaited new ‘Nighthawk’ role – and then the umpires intervened, bad light arguably trumping common sense once more.

So, they will return, as they must, for Day Five and England should wrap up their sixth win in seven home Tests this summer, a fairly remarkable transformation forged in the image of McCullum and Stokes.

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