x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

South Africa close in on the Test No 1 spot as England toil

A hundred from Hashim Amla and two late wickets from Vernon Philander leaves the Proteas in charge.

Hashim Amla, right, scored 121 at Lord's against England.
Hashim Amla, right, scored 121 at Lord's against England.

England fell foul of Vernon Philander, with bat and then ball, as their No 1 Test status hung by a thread against South Africa at Lord’s.

Philander consolidated the work of centurion Hashim Amla in the tourists’ 351 all out – and then immediately undermined England’s hopes of pulling off a record run chase of 346 to share the series, by shifting both openers lbw for only four runs between them.

Captain Andrew Strauss, on his home ground in his 100th Test and 50th in charge, managed just a single before shouldering arms to a delivery that nipped up the slope to follow back Alastair Cook – who at least played a defensive shot but could not cope with Philander’s movement off the seam.

After 13 overs of evening batting, England were guided to an ultra-cautious 16 without further loss by Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell – but realistic pretensions to victory, and therefore keeping South Africa off the top of the world, were fading fast.

After Steven Finn (four for 74) did most to bowl the tourists out, England knew already they must rewrite their own history and that of Lord’s by achieving their own and the venue’s highest fourth-innings run chase.

Finn took two big wickets in successive overs to help keep English hopes just about alive at that point.

The seamer twice found telling movement up the slope, on his home ground, to see off centurion Amla and then AB de Villiers with the second new ball.

England had received scant reward for their efforts before lunch, and did not help their own cause by dropping another crucial catch.

Amla (121), South Africa’s first Test triple-centurion in their landslide win at The Oval, was dropped by Matt Prior, on just two, on Saturday.

Then yesterday de Villiers escaped on eight when James Anderson put down a straightforward low chance at midwicket off Graeme Swann – the eighth catch missed by England in this series.

Finn and Anderson tried to apply the pressure from the outset. But it was not until Strauss made a double change that Stuart Broad made short work of nightwatchman Dale Steyn, trying to fend off the latest in a succession of short balls and offering a simple catch off the shoulder of the bat to short-leg.

De Villiers announced himself with successive boundaries from his first two balls, pulled fine off Broad and then down the wicket to hit Swann over mid-on.

After an unexpected lunchtime shower, Amla passed his 182-ball hundred with a cut for his ninth four – and it was only when Finn began to gather momentum from his favoured pavilion end that England had a lifeline.

Finn had bowled Amla through the gate in the first innings, with one that nipped down the slope; this time he got one to go the other way, beat the defence and hit off stump to end a stand of 85.

Twelve balls later, he had de Villiers too – edging a little extra bounce to slip where Strauss took his 121st catch, the most by any fielder in English Test history.

Finn was not finished either, and before tea had Jacques Rudolph edging behind to Prior.

It took another 17.2 overs at the start of the evening session to end the innings, as JP Duminy and Philander – following their twin 61s in the first innings – again held the hosts up in an eighth-wicket stand of 54.

It was an excruciating passage of play, for England supporters, before Philander slapped an Anderson long-hop straight to point.

An alert piece of stumping by Prior off Swann then did for Morne Morkel, and Anderson clean-bowled Imran Tahir to leave the stoic Duminy unbeaten after 93 balls of defiance.

The left-hander had contributed only 26 runs, but nonetheless done much to make England’s mission improbable more so – even before Philander got to work again.

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