• On day four Joe Root (on 60no) took to the crease with James Taylor (24) 
  • Root went for 73, and Taylor for 42, before Jonny Bairstow came in 
  • Bairstow took the game away from South Africa with a rapid 79 from 76 
  • He was caught at long off as England ended their innings with 326 all out  
  • South Africa then got off to a good batting start and went into tea at 65-1
  • However England responded to leave the hosts on 136-4 at stumps

Paul Newman In Durban

The chance was tough but one that a Test keeper really should take. Instead Jonny Bairstow came nowhere near stumping AB de Villiers and South Africa lived to fight the final day of a first Test that could yet have one last twist.

It was cruel on Bairstow, who had earlier played one of his best innings for England, but his frustration was clear after South Africa’s main man had danced down the wicket to Moeen Ali on 33 and completely missed the ball.

Sadly for England so did Bairstow with De Villiers stranded and the Yorkshireman went down on his haunches and punched the floor in despair at his inability to hammer a decisive nail in South Africa’s coffin.

England captain Alastair Cook (centre) leads the celebrations following the late dismissal of Faf du Plessis

England captain Alastair Cook (centre) leads the celebrations following the late dismissal of Faf du Plessis

England wicket keeper Jonathan Bairstow misses a ball that could have caught out AB de Villiers

England wicket keeper Jonathan Bairstow misses a ball that could have caught out AB de Villiers

Steven Finn made England feel an awful lot better when he removed Faf du Plessis to claim his third wicket but De Villiers is still there and even though South Africa need another 280 to pull off what would be an extraordinary victory with six wickets in hand England will have slept a little less comfortably.

Even before then South Africa’s quest to reach 416 to pull off the second highest run chase in Test history had not exactly followed the script that looked written in stone in an opening match that has been dominated by England.

South Africa, without a score of even 300 in more than a year, would either collapse spectacularly, it was reasoned, or try to battle through for one of their trademark blockathons to try to escape with parity ahead of Cape Town.

Instead a home side who seem racked with uncertainty and heading towards the end of their era of domination as the best team in Test cricket came out of the traps with all guns blazing at England.

When South Africa reached 50 without loss in only the 10th over and then 85 for the loss of only Stiaan van Zyl in the 20th England nerves were perhaps starting to twitch even with the weight of history on their side.

Enter Finn who was peeved not to be picked for England’s original tour party because of injury and quickly went about proving his fitness when he was added to it after marking his comeback with the Lions in Dubai.

Dean Elgar of South Africa looks back as Joe Root of England takes the catch during day four

Dean Elgar of South Africa looks back as Joe Root of England takes the catch during day four

He returned from the career-threatening collapse of his technique in spectacular style against Australia last summer and now he showed why he is so important to an England team seeking to return to the very top themselves.

First Hashim Amla, who had looked to be inching towards a return to something like his best after a dismal tour of India, handed Finn his wicket and then Dean Elgar remained rooted to the spot in disbelief after edging to Joe Root.

Then, just as English shoulders were sagging after Bairstow’s miss, Finn returned to have Du Plessis caught by an animated Alastair Cook in the last over of the day and England were able to finish on a high note

It had been Ben Stokes, seemingly struggling with an ankle problem, who had made the breakthrough when he bowled Van Zyl through the gate after Cook had turned to all five of his main bowlers in the first 10 overs.

In truth it was always going to be harder to dislodge South Africa second time around after England had survived some early setbacks on the fourth morning to take themselves to heights that should have put them out of sight.

A disappointing fourth-day crowd of little more than 5,000 had turned up at Kingsmead, a reflection both of the worrying indifference worldwide towards Test cricket and the locals giving up on their unravelling side.

Those that were here were mainly supporting England and they began the day knowing their side were in a powerful position and just needed to press home their advantage against a home team lacking their spearhead in Dale Steyn.

England started in too much of a hurry to get where they wanted to be and Joe Root was furious with himself when he again failed to convert a half century into three figures for the 10th time in Test cricket this year.

He still finishes 2015 with 1385 Test runs at an average of 60.21, with only Steve Smith having scored more Test runs, but knowing he must go on to more match-defining hundreds if he is to become a truly great player.

When Stokes and James Taylor also died by the sword England still had work to do and it was done quite brilliantly by Bairstow who set the perfect tone at just the right time.

There were many who felt Jos Buttler should be rushed straight back into the Test side after his record-breaking one-day century against Pakistan in Dubai but Trevor Bayliss wants to give fair and proper chances to players.

England bowler Steven Finns is congratulated as the visitors celebrate the wicket of South Africa's Dean Elgar

England bowler Steven Finns is congratulated as the visitors celebrate the wicket of South Africa’s Dean Elgar

Bairstow had done nothing to lose his place, coach Bayliss reasoned, even though Buttler is a better keeper, as was again demonstrated in his absence yesterday, and clearly an extraordinary batting talent when he is on top of his game, as he has seldom been in Test cricket.

The Yorkshireman is clearly a Test quality batsman himself and a man who has done more than his fair share of 12th man duties now flourished by hitting 79 off 76 balls with three sixes before becoming the last man to fall.

It is whether his keeping will stand up to the test that remains in question and this miss goes alongside Bairstow dropping Hashim Amla in the first innings and his two key misses to reprieve Mohammad Hafeez in the last Test in Sharjah.

Cook’s reluctance to declare was understandable given there was so much time left in the Test and the way South Africa started he will feel totally justified that he didn’t pull out even after England’s lead had passed 400.

The fall of Bairstow trying to clear the ropes for a fourth time left South Africa with 140 overs to reach 416 or survive and while De Villiers remains there is a slither of hope that they will achieve one or the other.

England really should still win today but Bairstow will wonder if he has undone so much of his good work with the bat. 

 

 

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