x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Smith's focus on tampering left visitors with escape route

The South Africans cannot be written off despite England's psychological advantage going into the final Test in Johannesburg.

It felt like a flashback to last month. England's last man Graham Onions survived a tension-fuelled last over and punched the air with the Barmy Army in raptures. The similarities between the Cape Town Test and the opening one at Centurion which set up such a pulsating series simply cannot be overstated.

England batted superbly in both matches to put themselves into the position to survive - before coming so close to undoing their own hard work on two occasions. Kevin Pietersen sparked a collapse in Centurion - and has been below-par since - while the end of Collingwood's four-and-a-half hours of battling started another fall of wickets at Newlands. In the end, the sporting gods were not on Graeme Smith's side on both occasions. Such unbelievable last-ball drama sums up a South Africa versus England series that has been gripping since the first ball was bowled at SuperSport Park.

The Newlands Test was certainly a feisty affair with the major talking point the ball-tampering row involving Stuart Broad and James Anderson. South Africa raised the issue on Tuesday, on a day they had dominated with a magnificent Smith century. Instead of focusing on the victory charge, they chose to question the state of the ball and the unfounded allegations led to Smith's men failing to make their complaints official and a lot of extra bad blood between the sides.

In the end the issue probably distracted the South Africans more than they are prepared to acknowledge - and left England with extra incentive to seal one of their greatest Test escapes of all time. The fight shown by Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell summed up a new-found English spirit. Andrew Strauss's men may not be the best team in world cricket but they are doing their best to play within their means. Alastair Cook is a prime example. The opener has eradicated the cover drive from his game and is instead waiting for bowlers to bowl bad balls. His century in Durban followed by two fifties in Cape Town is testament to his sensible thinking.

South Africa will be disappointed now they cannot win this series despite having the better of the first and third Test matches. But they can draw positives from the way they bowled at Newlands, with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel particularly impressive. Morkel picked up five first-innings wickets and Steyn four. But it was the way the pair bowled in the second innings that was most impressive. Steyn and Morkel had Collingwood and Bell in all sorts of trouble in an amazing spell with the second new ball. They were unlucky not to pick up a wicket in a spell that brought back memories of Allan Donald's to Mike Atherton at Trent Bridge in 1998.

England will certainly feel they finally got something from the maligned Umpire Decision Review System. Umpires Daryl Harper and Tony Hill had a poor match, with Harper wrongly dismissing Ashwell Prince and Hill incorrectly calling Smith out on day three with both overturned. Harper incorrectly ruled Pietersen out lbw to Friedel de Wet on Wednesday while Hill wrongly said Collingwood was out first ball on Thursday to Harris. And in the end both were similarly overturned.

Both teams are still getting used to the system but are starting to feel more positively about it after early naivety when deciding when to use it. All this sets up a fascinating series-finale at Johannesburg starting next Thursday. The Wanderers is a venue England won at in 2005 to set up their series victory and they will be confident that their bowlers who - ball-tampering row aside - have produced plenty of reverse-swing can repeat the same trick that Matthew Hoggard provided then.

Strauss will name an unchanged side again for the fourth match running, injuries permitting. The England captain has been fully justified to play with six batsmen and four bowlers with Cook, Bell and his bowlers delivering the goods. The pressure will be firmly on Smith and the make-up of his side. Friedel de Wet was due to undergo a scan yesterday on a buttock problem that hindered his progress during the third Test.

That largely prevented him from playing to his potential in only his second Test appearance, but he got the crucial wicket of Cook on Wednesday. But he still found a place in South Africa's 15-man squad announced late yesterday. The selectors also picked uncapped pair Wayne Parnell and Imran Tahir. Former Pakistan A leg-spinner Tahir is an especially eye-catching addition at a venue where slow bowling can be effective. He and left-arm pace bowler Parnell join the XI, plus batsman Alviro Petersen and all-rounder Ryan McLaren.

Parnell, 20, is a limited-overs regular for South Africa but has yet to play Test cricket, despite having been named in several squads. At 30, Tahir has had a career with Hampshire, Middlesex, Yorkshire and Easterns - among others. The psychological advantage may now rest with England but Smith's side cannot be discounted, especially given the thrilling series so far. Write South Africa off at your peril. @Email:sports@thenational.ae

The number of registered players available for auction on 19 January for the third season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been increased to 60. The nine additions are all English players. A list of 65 players was pruned down after the organisers said they failed to get the clearance from the England and Wales Cricket Board which wanted all players available for their domestic circuit. On Wednesday, the IPL released what it said was the "complete" list of players who would be part of the auction; it featured none of the England players who were on the long-list drawn up at the beginning of the month. The nine players are Tim Bresnan, Anthony McGrath, Eoin Morgan, Monty Panesar, Adil Rashid, Jonathan Trott, Usman Afzaal and James Foster; with Graeme Swann now added to the list.