London: England's Jonny Bairstow came within five runs of penning his name on the famous Lord's honours board, on day three of the third and final Test against South Africa. But as good as his fighting innings of 95 was, it seems inevitable that there is a match-winner still to evolve in this seesawing Test match.
England are desperate to force the win they need to square the series and retain their status at the top of the world rankings. Conversely, South Africa are seeking to close out a series they have generally shaded throughout and avoid any accusations of the ‘c' word. Of course we are talking about a choke. In this pulsating finale, England will feel the win is there for the taking, while South Africa need all the resolve they can muster to finish what they started at The Oval with a convincing innings-and-12-run victory.
South Africa were 139 runs ahead at stumps, on 145 for three, with seven second innings wickets remaining and two days left in this series to decide the true champion of the Test arena. Hashim Amla was 57 not out. Victory seemed to be slipping through England's fingers until Steven Finn struck a huge blow, trapping Jacques Kallis lbw for 31.
"It was fantastic (to get Kallis at the end)," Bairstow said afterwards. "We were toiling hard all afternoon so to come away with that important wicket was fantastic. It's pretty level now. There's two days to go and a lot of cricket left. If we can get a few early wickets we will be looking to chase down whatever they set us."
Kallis reviewed Simon Taufel's decision and was visibly annoyed when replays failed to support his protest. Don't be surprised if he later receives a dissent charge from the match referee. But one cannot help wondering if the anger from his first innings dismissal was still fresh in his mind, when he was sent on his way after review even though the ball looked to have brushed his glove while it was off the bat handle.
This may have been Kallis's final Test innings in England. So the final two days will help dictate how he is remembered here. A master allrounder in a truly great and ruthless South Africa line-up, or a great in a side that couldn't win when it most needed to? For, although South Africa won the 2008 series, they drew 2-2 in 2003 having let a 2-1 advantage slip.
"If someone said at the start of the series that we would be 1-0 up and 150 ahead with two days left we would have taken that," Russell Domingo, South Africa's assistant coach, said. "We think we are in a good position tonight. If we can score another 80 or 90 runs in the morning that will put England under some pressure."
South Africa started their second innings cautiously, reaching 33 without loss at tea off 15 overs. But offspinner Graeme Swann struck not long after when Smith attempted to sweep him and failed to make contact to be lbw. That was 46 for one, soon to be 50 for two.
Alviro Petersen fell two balls after Amla was dropped, when Broad trapped him lbw. Like Smith, he chose not to review the dismissal and replays duly showed it to be the right decision as the ball would have struck leg stump.
Kallis and Amla put on 81 and were solid for the most part, ominously so for England, who would have well remembered their third-wicket partnership of 377 at The Oval. But the duo was eventually separated this time. Kallis seemed to gesture that he had hit the ball and subsequently walked off shaking his head, mouthing to himself.
Earlier Bairstow, in the team for the omitted Kevin Pietersen, was bowled by Morne Morkel, trying to drive through mid-on. It was a courageous effort by Bairstow, 22, after coming to the crease at 54 for four and he received a warm standing ovation by the capacity crowd.
Bairstow's innings of just over five hours came to an end after mounting pressure finally took its toll. He failed to score from 15 balls off Morkel before he eventually perished. His stand of 124 with Ian Bell the day before though, kept England in the match.
"I was pleased with the way I played but pretty disappointed not to get there," Bairstow added. "It was quite a tense period of play when I went in so it was pleasing to ride that out with Ian Bell."