England rescued as bad light forces a draw in Cape Town

South Africa’s attack had been ripping through England before play was stopped

England’s Jonny Bairstow looks down as he waits the results from the third empire with team member Moeen Ali during the second test against South Africa at Newlands. Photo: Schalk van Zuydam/Getty Images

England 629-6 dec & 159-6; South Africa 627-7 dec

The record books will show that this was a match that ended in a draw without the third innings even having been completed, a dull old affair.

But just for a few hours, during the morning session and deep into the afternoon, as the South African bowlers punched a large hole in England’s second innings, there was the distinct possibility that they might be in the process of bringing off the biggest heist in the history of Test cricket. Only six sides have made 500 runs or more in their first innings and gone on to lose the match, and none more than the 586 Australia made against England in Sydney in 1894-5. When England made 629 for six in their first innings, they had established a position from which history suggested it was impossible to lose.

Instead the match ended, gloomily, as the fine weather of the first four days gave way to heavy cloud and bad light, with Jonny Bairstow, centurion hero of the first innings, and Moeen Ali, for whom rearguard is not unknown despite his buccaneering reputation, blocking spin and seam, with men perched all round the bat and adding an unbroken seventh-wicket stand of 43. If England emerged from the match having retained the lead they earned in Durban, then South Africa will have scared the daylights out of them.


More than 600 runs at five runs per over from England in the first innings, 159 for six in the second. How this game can be turned on its head. Had England lost, Ben Stokes’ 258 would have been the highest individual score in a losing cause: had that happened, a total exclusion zone round him might have been in order. The teams now have a break until the third Test starts at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on 14 January.

It was a remarkable transformation in the match, which serves to highlight yet again that if a game can be taken to a fifth day, and the pitch has had a chance to deteriorate, with cracks opening, footmarks for the spinners, and dusting up, then there are going to be opportunities. There was cloud cover too, and with it the South African seamers, especially Chris Morris, were able to find the sort of movement in the air that had been notably absent during the first four days. Give a bowler some lateral movement to go with the pace and bounce that was still in the pitch, and they are in the game.

Both Morne Morkel and Morris were excellent, with a wicket each, Kagiso Rabada nipped out the England captain early on, and Dane Piedt captured three wickets with his offspin. Bairstow played calmly though, for an unbeaten 30 from 75 balls, fortunate,when 20, to survive a stumping chance that took the third umpire Rod Tucker an eternity to rule the Jolly Lekker decision, as the scoreboard announced, in his favour.

Moeen was discretion itself, but as once he batted through an entire day at Headingley in a memorable rearguard against Sri Lanka, we know he is not a one-trick No8 batting pony: his unbeaten 10 occupied 60 balls.

In their debrief, the England team will have plenty of time to reflect on how they had got themselves into such a tangle that it is the opposition, a shambles in Durban, who will travel to the highveld in the best spirits. In scoring the runs they did, at the pace they did, England gave themselves every opportunity to demoralise Hashim Amla’s team. But in the course of the South African reply, they dropped no fewer than nine catches, none simple, all catchable, the most costly being that given by Amla when he had 21 of his 201 runs, and AB de Villiers when he had five of his eventual 88.

Against this, Morris, for South Africa, held two stunning slip catches, one to dismiss Cook in the first innings, and a second to see the back of Alex Hales in the second. Those two moments encapsulate a crucial difference between the sides here.

England ought to have been capable of seeing out the day untroubled. Cook and Hales had negotiated six overs the previous evening without alarm. Morkel in particular, though, has attacked Cook’s rib cage, deliberately looking for the legside catch, and now Rabada, following his lead, got the England captain to feather down the legside to Quinton de Kock.

When Hales then edged Morkel wide of Morris’s right hand at third slip, only to see the fielder pluck the ball from close to the turf after it appeared to have gone past him, both openers had gone without adding to their overnight scores: already the nagging doubts that can invade the minds of England supporters were there.

Joe Root joined Nick Compton, for whom such a situation is tailor-made, and the pair added 36, although not without alarm as Root, on 17, had edged Morkel to second slip only for it to be shown a no-ball. It hardly mattered for with his first delivery of the innings, Morris produced something that squared Root up, went past his bat and uprooted the offstump.

When Compton, after 60 balls, flicked Piedt lazily to short mid on just before lunch, England were 85 for four and floundering. James Taylor, on a king pair, and Stokes used up a dozen overs before Stokes, having hit one swept boundary then tried a second and was caught at deep square leg.

Two overs later, Taylor, playing very low, got a glove to a ball that turned and spun a little and was taken at short leg: 116 for six and time left for South Africa. Bairstow and Moeen made sure that was all they got.

(Guardian service)