England have an opportunity “to do something special,” batting coach Graham Thorpe said after Rory Burns and Dom Sibley gave them a strong start to a challenging run chase on the third day of the first Test against South Africa at SuperSport Park on Saturday.
Burns and Sibley put on 92 for the first wicket after England were set to make 376 to win. Sibley fell for 29 to left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj but the tourists reached 121 for one wicket at the close of play, needing another 255 runs to win.
“We made it very hard for ourselves the way we batted in the first innings,” Thorpe said of the side’s dismissal for 181, which put them 103 behind on the first innings.
A fighting chance
“But we’ll wake up tomorrow morning with a chance,” he said. “It’s a long shot, we’ll have to play very well but for some reason the pitch appeared to play slightly different today. We’ve given ourselves a fighting chance. It’s a lot of runs to get but there’s belief in our dressing room.”
Burns made 77 not out and saw out the day with first innings top-scorer Joe Denly, who was on 10. Burns made his runs off 117 balls and hit 11 fours.
Thorpe said it was especially important that England made a good start because of illness which kept Jos Buttler off the field all day and forced captain Joe Root to spend two extended periods in the dressing room. “They’ll benefit from a good night’s sleep,” he said.
That England were set a larger than expected target was largely due to a fifth wicket stand of 91 between new cap Rassie van der Dussen (51) and nightwatchman Anrich Nortje (40).
They were not parted until half an hour before lunch and there were further useful contributions from Quinton de Kock (34) and Vernon Philander (46).
Van der Dussen and Nortje fell in successive overs to Jofra Archer, who claimed the third five-wicket haul of his short Test career, taking five for 102.
But Archer was expensive and one of the main offenders as England persisted with short-pitched bowling for most of the morning on a pitch where a fuller length had challenged batsmen.
Nortje said South Africa would have liked to have struck early in England’s second innings but said they had managed to keep the run rate down as the innings progressed. “We have had a good investment session and hopefully we can strike tomorrow,” he said.
Nortje agreed with Thorpe that the pitch had played easier on an overcast day than it did on the first two days. “Hopefully tomorrow conditions will be in our favour and it will be a bit more up and down so we can take a few wickets.”
Denly said on Friday that there were no demons in the pitch and that the key was to see off the new ball.
England’s chance to do ‘something special’ – ThorpeBurns and Sibley did exactly that, seeing off the threat of Kagiso Rabada and Philander, although Rabada surprisingly only bowled three overs in his first spell before making way for Nortje.
Sibley looked less comfortable against the spin of Maharaj than against the faster bowlers. He was tied down by the spinner before trying to punch a shorter ball off the back foot and hitting back a simple catch.