Hello and welcome to what looks a fascinating culmination to this second Test match. Just think, as our cricket correspondentScyld Berry points out in his close of play piece from yesterday, this would have ended in a draw if this form of the game moves from five to four days:
Before the scheduled close on day four, England’s players would have shaken hands with South Africa’s stubborn batsmen – if the game’s administrators had been allowed to impose their set of values, which are primarily financial. Instead, the fifth day of this match will see drama of a kind that no other format in cricket – and no other sport – can offer.
The task is daunting for both sides. For South Africa, the goal is to bat out an entire fifth day of a Test, having already repelled England for overs. The loss of Zubayr Hamza just before close yesterday was a blow, but they still have Pieter Malan at the crease unbeaten on 63. And what a find he looks.
Malan is one of those batsmen who earns their first international cap and leaves you wondering how he reached the age of 56 and played 150 first-class matches before it happened. His technique and temperament look spot on for this level of cricket. Yet he has a huge job if South Africa are to survive the day with eight wickets to play with.
From an England perspective, the sun is shining, the pitch has flattened out and the bowlers will have woken this morning fully aware of the grueling task ahead of them. Taking eight wickets will be hard work. But they should win, shouldn’t they? They should be able to bowl a side out in almost 823 overs.
The assumption is they have two ways of doing so. If the old ball starts reversing then James Anderson and Stuart Broad’s ears will prick up and wickets could start tumbling. Then there is spin. Dom Bess and perhaps Joe Denly will be given plenty of overs to bowl today. How they fare could well determine the course of the match.
England start the day as favorites, but the draw remains a distinct possibility. Even if the maths seems plausible, a South Africa win looks highly unlikely. But hey, day five of a Test match with all three results still in play. Excellent.