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Finn takes three wickets as England tightens grasp

South Africa ends fourth day on 136 for 4 in pursuit of 416, after Bairstow lifts England to 326

Finn takes three wickets as England tightens grasp - Cricket News
Steven Finn took three wickets as England reduced South Africa, chasing 416, to 136 for 4 and inched closer to a win.
Steven Finn’s three-wicket haul put paid to any concerns about England letting the first Test slip through its fingers, as he bowled the visiting side to within six wickets of victory in the first Test against South Africa on Tuesday (December 29).

South Africa closed the fourth day at Kingsmead on 136 for 4 in pursuit of 416, a target that far exceeds the highest successful run chase on this ground of 340. Although it still has AB de Villiers on 37 not out, Finn’s dismissal of Faf du Plessis in the final over of the day meant that it is likely to be a case of when, rather than if, England goes 1-0 up in the series.

South Africa must either stonewall for 90 overs on the final day, or find some of the 280 runs still required. 

The day began with the news that Dale Steyn would be unable to bowl again in the match, and that his participation in the Newlands Test on January 2 was “touch and go”. Despite this, previous incarnations of England would undoubtedly have bedded in for the first hour to first make the game safe, but this one was more adventurous. Joe Root and James Taylor got the scoreboard ticking over early after resuming on 172 for 3, but some risky shots did bring an element of danger that ultimately brought two relatively soft dismissals.

First Root edged to Stiaan van Zyl at first slip after a vague waft, then his replacement, Ben Stokes, attempted a reverse-sweep off Dane Piedt and gloved to slip. Root’s 73 left him with 1385 runs for the calendar year, second to Steven Smith in 2015 and second to Michael Vaughan for an England batsman in a single year.

When Taylor (42) skipped down the track to be stumped by de Villiers off Piedt, South Africa had a small glimpse back into the match with England 224 for 6, ahead by 310, and the second new ball immediately available. Yet with Piedt making inroads with the old one and a suggestion of reverse swing about, Hashim Amla opted not to take it. It was a judgement call that could have been argued either way. While a quick end to the England innings could have left a target of around 350, Jonny Bairstow was in full flow and a hard ball might have flown to the boundary.

Either way, Bairstow showed that he could hit top gear when it was called for. He added 48 with Moeen Ali in the next ten overs, before Piedt (5 for 153) removed Ali lbw to claim his maiden five-wicket haul – and the first by a South African spinner on this ground since Hugh Tayfield in 1957.

England went to lunch on 275 for 7, meaning it had scored a productive 104 runs in the two-hour session. Chris Woakes and Bairstow ramped up the aggression after the interval, and when Bairstow hit Piedt for a big six onto the bank at square-leg, the lead passed 400. The innings was ended on 326 soon after as van Zyl grabbed the last three wickets in the space of six deliveries, denying Bairstow a run at a hundred, as he departed for 79 from 76 deliveries.

Van Zyl’s 3 for 20 appeared to lend him confidence as he returned to the crease looking to avoid a pair. He reached 33 at a run a ball as South Africa eased to 50 without loss inside ten overs, suggesting that it was not out of the match with 366 now required from 130 overs. Those thoughts were dashed when Stokes produced a mean delivery from around the wicket that stormed through van Zyl’s defences to hit the top of off stump. Then after lunch, Finn returned to bag both Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar. Amla’s worrying run therefore grew to ten innings that have yielded just 150 runs since the Newlands Test at the start of the year.

At that stage, South Africa decided to shut up shop, with the out-of-form Faf du Plessis scoring nine in 66 balls in a 48-run stand with de Villiers that spanned nearly 24 overs. Bairstow missed a stumping chance against de Villiers, but focus on that faded when Finn found some extra bounce, du Plessis fended, and Alastair Cook took a sharp catch at slip.

To view the full scorecard, please click here.

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