CENTURION // Graeme Swann can do no wrong at the moment. He was England's man of the day with the ball on the first two days, taking five for 110 and yesterday he proved he can deliver with the bat too - with a quite magnificent knock that increased England's chances of saving the first Test.
The spinner's counter attacking cameo of 85 from 81 balls, his highest Test score, brought England right into a match they appeared destined to lose when Swann arrived at the crease with his side a perilous 221 for seven. They may still come off second best - there was plenty of indifferent bounce and England have to bat last - but Swann helped the visitors to a respectable 356 all out. James Anderson then gave England a bonus, bowling Ashwell Prince for a duck in the first over of South Africa's second innings. A shell-shocked Proteas closed on nine for one, a lead of just 71.
Swann batted like his personality, with an attitude that said, "let's just have some fun". Together with Anderson they put on 106, a ninth-wicket record at SuperSport Park after South Africa had dominated most of the third day. England captain Andrew Strauss suffered horrendous misfortune when he was dismissed for 46 off a Makhaya Ntini delivery that simply did not bounce. Ntini's delivery knocked over Strauss's off-stump to give the man celebrating his 100th appearance a 389th Test wicket. England thereafter struggled to get to grips with the wicket, playing some truly awful shots.
Jonathan Trott was the first to have a rush of blood to the head after scoring just 10 runs in the first 90 minutes. The Cape Town-born England batsman raced down the pitch to Harris and was bowled off an apparent straight delivery. Kevin Pietersen started to look in the mood after lunch, following two glorious flicks off his pads, before falling for 40 after expansively driving a Morkel delivery onto his leg stump via an inside edge.
TV replays suggested that Morkel may have no-balled as yet another big decision went the way of the hosts. After Pietersen had departed, Ian Bell - under pressure for a score - looked all at sea against the South African spinner, embarrassingly departing for five after leaving a straight one that hit middle stump. Collingwood continued on his merry way, smashing a delightful six to bring up the England 200, while Matt Prior failed to get to grips with the surface. The England wicketkeeper-batsman was another who gave his wicket away top edging to Friedel de Wet at long leg for just four off a 34-ball vigil.
Harris got a bit of extra bounce but it was his third consecutive early Christmas present following the early dismissals of Trott and Bell. That left England still eight runs shy of the follow-on mark but Collingwood saw them to that first target, sweeping Harris and bringing up his fifty in the process. But the Durham batsman fell the very next ball. This time it was a fine spinning delivery that met Collingwood's edge and Jacques Kallis grasped fine low catch at slip to make it 221 for seven.
Stuart Broad and Swann added 21 runs either side of tea before the former fell in controversial fashion to JP Duminy - another lbw referral with South Africa successfully overturning Aleem Dar's 'not out' call much to the disgust of Broad. It gave South Africa a glorious chance to complete the innings but they did not count on Swann and Anderson. Their whirlwind partnership, including two sixes from Swann and some confident cover drives from Lancastrian Anderson, wowed the visiting crowd.
Anderson was out for 29 chipping to Morkel off Ntini before Swann finally fell hooking Harris to Graeme Smith in the deep to give the South African spinner figures of five for 123. The pitch shows no signs of getting better - the ball continued to keep low throughout the day - raising the possibility of all three results. With just two days left, and thunderstorms expected over the weekend, the draw looks most likely. But England's top order can be eternally grateful to Swann the batsman for getting them out of jail.
email@example.com South Africa v England, Day Four, ShowSports 3, 6.30am