Bad light and rain bring early end to play on final day as England keeps its 1-0 series lead intact
After two days of lying dormant as a contest, the second Test between South Africa and England sparked back to life on Wednesday (January 6). When England’s sixth wicket went down with its lead just 118 runs and 55 overs still to be played, another extraordinary record was on the line on the final day of a match that has thrown up more than its fair share. No side in the history of Test cricket has scored more than 600 in the first innings and gone on to lose, but suddenly the feat seemed possible.
As it turned out, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali ate up 22 overs and added 43 runs, doing their bit to ensure no last-minute drama, while bad light and rain took care of the rest. England finished on 159 for 6, ahead by 161 at a time when 31 overs were still left in the game, two of which would have come off in the event of a change of innings. It can head for the Highveld and the final two Tests in the series with its 1-0 lead still intact.
South Africa will nevertheless be reinvigorated after a remarkable turnaround. After two days here it looked flat, with Ben Stokes’ brutal 258 sinking hopes. Now the team can go into the third Test on the back of a moral victory, feeling that it has turned the corner.
South Africa's batting has been patchy in the recent past, and the confidence from matching England’s mammoth first-innings total bled into the side's play on the final day. England resumed on 16 without loss, but walked out under the first clouds Cape Town has seen in weeks. The result was some movement for the bowlers at last, and suddenly every delivery felt threatening.
In the second over of the day, Alastair Cook edged a Kagiso Rabada delivery down the leg side and was caught by Quinton de Kock. In the next over, Alex Hales edged Morne Morkel, and Chris Morris at second slip added a right-handed blinder to the left-handed one from the first innings. The tone for the day was set.
South Africa suffered some misfortune, with Morkel having Joe Root caught at slip off a no-ball, and Rabada grabbing a chance from James Taylor at backward square-leg only for the ball to pop out of his hands when his elbows hit the ground. Yet the team kept on coming. Root missed a steaming straight one from Morris to fall for 29, and Nick Compton glanced Dane Piedt straight to short mid-on.
England went to lunch on 87 for 4, leading by 89, but looked to be on its way to salvation after the break thanks to Stokes’ regular boundaries. Yet his aggression finally caught up with him when he took on Piedt and picked out the only fielder in the deep to depart for 26. When Taylor was caught bat-pad off Piedt two overs later, it was well and truly game on for South Africa.
However, one partnership was all England really needed, and the team found it in the Bairstow-Ali alliance. The duo carried England to tea on 155 for 6, which put safety more or less within reach. For context, teams rarely chase more than 150 to win domestic Twenty20 games at Newlands, and that is on a fresh pitch rather than a fifth-day one.
In any case, the runs-overs debate was rendered redundant when the clouds grew too thick and bad light stopped play. Soon after there was light drizzle. The umpires held off until 5pm, and then confirmed what everyone already knew, as the Test ended in a draw.