England face a race against time and the weather to secure a series lead against South Africa after rain limited the play possible on the third day at Port Elizabeth to just 64 overs.
In the action that did take place, junior off-spinner Dominic Bess starred. He claimed the first three wickets to fall to go with the two scalps he claimed the previous evening to register his first five-wicket haul in Tests. Only two spinners, Pat Pocock and Derek Underwood, have done so at a younger age for England.
Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis each fell to bat-pad catches from Ollie Pope, the first at silly point and the second at short leg, before Rassie van der Dussen and nightwatchman Anrich Nortje batted out almost until the lunch break, when van der Dussen chopped on.
Rain brought about an early interval and delayed the resumption, and for a time South Africa kept England at bay, with Quinton de Kock belligerent and Nortje brave. Ben Stokes, as he so often does, made the intervention. Joe Root held him back until the 61st over, and it took the all-rounder just 10 balls to strike, Nortje edging to Root at slip.
Otherwise, Stokes had an up-and-down day. Having set records with his efforts in the slips in the second Test at Cape Town, he dropped three catches at slip on the third day here. All came standing close in with the spinner bowling, as did one drop by Root with Stokes at leg slip, and as strong as England’s position is, and as joyous as Bess’ performance was, they will face a battle to force victory.
With two days left to play, South Africa trail by 291 runs with four wickets in hand, and need 92 runs to avoid the follow on. De Kock is 63 not out, and surely has a big role to play on the fourth day.
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