TELFORD VICE at The Oval
AT least 11 sets of curtains will be pulled aside in hope and trepidation in South Africa’s hotel in London on Sunday morning, and a pertinent question asked — is it still raining?
If it is, South Africa will have a stronger chance of going to Manchester on Tuesday with the series still winnable.
But if the rain that limited Saturday’s play in the third test against England at The Oval to 37 overs has cleared up, South Africa might well be trying to earn a share of the spoils at Old Trafford.
And the forecast is that Sunday and Monday will be cloudy but free of rain.
Stumps on Saturday came with England 74/1 in their second innings. That’s a lead of 252, which would put them in the driving seat regardless of anything else.
But the home side have another major factor in their favour in the shape of Vernon Philander’s stomach.
Its health, that is. Philander spent Friday night in hospital trying to recover from a viral infection.
He succeeded well enough to score 10 not out and bowl six overs on Saturday.
But South Africa will need a lot more overs from Philander where those came from if they are to retain realistic hopes of keeping at least a draw within reach. By the look of him on Saturday, Philander is a long way from over his illness.
Morne Morkel bowled Alastair Cook for six with a pearler that kissed the outside of the left-hander off-stump.
If Philander is still struggling on Sunday, Morkel will be the visitors’ key bowler.
Temba Bavuma’s defiant 52 was the major reason South Africa — who crashed to 61/7 on Friday in reply to England’s first innings of 353 — were able to stave off the prospect of following on.
It was his ninth test half-century and the fifth time he has had to dig South Africa out of the dwang. Little wonder he is getting used to doing so.
“It’s always difficult in those situations,” Bavuma said. “But, because of where I bat, more often than not that’s where I’ll find myself — having to adapt to those kinds of situations.
“I didn’t see it any differently to all the other times I’ve batted.
“In terms of gameplan I just tried to take it ball by ball and see how long we can keep them out there in the field.”
Bavuma and co. — Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Philander — did so well enough to take South Africa to 175 before they were dismissed.
Whether that will be enough to stop England from taking complete command of the match could be revealed when curtains are opened on Sunday.