Tight bowling and a couple of poor shots saw England stumble to 102-4 at close of play, some 150 runs behind the total South Africa and the magnificent Hashim Amla piled on over the preceding three days.
Although a fired up South African attack bowled with some purpose after a long spell chilling in the pavilion, there wasn’t a huge amount of movement again in the evening session. Good balls to Cook and Trott, and sloppy cricket by KP and Strauss left Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara at the crease overnight – neither looked in particular bother although they will have to start again on the 5th day with both having plenty left to prove.
Bell in particular has always been labelled a bit of a flaker, a wimp; when the going gets tough, Bell tends to find a way to return to the pavilion. One remembers sturdy and stout innings from Paul (the wall) Collingwood in similar situations which resulted in saving the match for England. The similarities (ginger, pale, middle order batsmen) only really serve to highlight the contrasts between the two players, Bell – an elegant, talented, full range of shots; and Collingwood – a dour, crabby, stubborn prodder. If IRon Bell flicks and caresses with an artful willow sabre, Collingwood poked and clubbed with a lump of wood. Yet in spite of an average scraping 40 (rather than approaching 50) it is Collingwood who has memorably saved games for England, not Bell. This could all change in the next day.
Despite being 4 down still 150 behind, it isn’t quite fair to call this a foregone conclusion. At the other end Bopara has a significant amount of batting to do to justify his not insignificant swagger, but lower down the order England have plenty of shot-makers. I can’t quite see Prior, Broad and Swann blocking until close, and if they can stay at the crease for any period of time then it is likely SA will have to bat again to win the Test. Perhaps Bresnan will justify his role in the team ahead of Finn by blocking his way to another *. Even James Anderson has been involved in last wicket game saving stands before.
Whatever the result, England have been thoroughly outplayed in 3/4 days of this Test so far. If they can garner a draw, it will be a huge positive with just 2 Tests to play in the series. A 1-0 lead for South Africa would look a very strong position to be in.