TELFORD VICE at Trent Bridge
TEN wickets? Or 474 runs? Which team are you going to back? For all test cricket’s subtlety, that’s the stark equation to be solved in the second match of South Africa’s series in England.
The impending likelihood is that South Africa will take the wickets they need far easier than England will reach what would be a world record target. So the series is set to go to The Oval locked at 1-1.
England will resume their second innings on Monday, the fourth day, on 1/0, a leg bye their only run.
Twenty-nine wickets fell under the clouds that covered most of the first three days’ play, but a forecast for sunny skies could complicate South Africa’s task.
“I hope it gets a lot tougher to bat,” Dean Elgar said. “It was challenging for us in the morning with the ball moving around and their world-class seamers.”
Moeen Ali countered: “We saw when the sun was out it was quite nice to bat.”
But England will nonetheless be hard-pressed to climb their mountain of runs on a pitch that tends towards variable bounce on the last two days and against South Africa’s crack attack.
If Vernon Philander’s rasping swing and seam movement doesn’t get you, Morne Morkel’s steepling bounce might.
And while Duanne Olivier and Chris Morris are in that league, they are not far off it.
Then there’s Keshav Maharaj, the hottest property in South African spin bowling for decades.
Nonetheless, Elgar was happy to fight for the win.
“We don’t want an easy test victory — it has to be hard work,” he said.
South Africa are in a commanding position because of scores of 80, 87 and 63 by Elgar, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis.
They batted with grit and not for glory, but they got the job done and set up what should be a crushing win.
Amla, for instance, batted through three partnerships — one of 135 runs, another of 62 — and gutsed out almost five hours at the crease in an innings that was as understated as it was invaluable.
“It’s always going to help us if ‘Hash’ is ticking over and hungry to score runs for the team,” Elgar said.
Or, as Moeen said, “Hashim was Hashim.”
Elgar spared a thought for the man who wasn’t there: Russell Domingo, who returned home before the match after his mother died in the wake of a car accident last month.
“It’s sad,” Elgar said. “His mom was like a mother for us when we were in PE.
“You can feel in the changeroom that he’s not there. He’s definitely missed in the team.”
If this one’s for Domingo, he’ll be especially proud.