“We’d want 350-plus minimum,” mused James Anderson at stumps on day three at Newlands. That might sound greedy considering how this England side have batted overseas, but here they are, heading into Monday with a lead of 264 with six batsmen still to come.
There was a lot that went right for Anderson, who finished with figures of five for 40. It started with a wicket with the first ball of the day – nicking Kagiso Rabada off – and then finishing the South Africa innings on 223 – Anrich Nortje caught at slip to give Ben Stokes’ fifth catch in the innings, an England record. It gave the hosts a lead of 46 which they were able to convert to 264 by day’s end.
The tourists’ second innings was held together by 85 from Dom Sibley, who finished unbeaten as he and Dom Bess – dismissed on the final ball of the day – left the field with their side 218 for four. It was Sibley’s first half-century in the format and along with going for a maiden Test hundred, he and the rest of the England batsmen will have their sights set on batting South Africa out of the match.
“If the wicket’s as flat as it looked today – the odd one misbehaved but nowhere near as many as the last two days – we’d want 350-plus minimum I think,” said Anderson when a target was raised. “Then again, if it starts to deteriorate and plays like it has done the last two days then we feel in the game right now. Whatever we get we’re going to have to bowl well. We’ve seen if you are patient as a batsman you can score runs and stick around for a long period of time. So as bowlers, we’re going to have to make sure we are on the money when we come to bowl again.”
For Anderson, it gave him his 27th five-wicket haul, becoming the first over the age of 37 to take one for England since 1951. Speaking in his post-match press conference, he did not put much stock in going ahead of Ian Botham’s five-for tally of 26. But the comparison was nice, as was the feeling on Saturday evening in the changing room after a hard day’s work to cut into South Africa to ensure they started today on 215 for eight.
The last few months have been ones of rehabilitation for Anderson. A calf injury picked up after four overs on the first morning of the Ashes back in Australia meant he missed the whole of that series along with the two in New Zealand.
Sessions at Lancashire, Loughborough and a specialist pace bowling camp in South Africa at the end of November, alongside his personal work, have been gearing towards this moment. After not firing in the first Test, he returned to the scene of his only previous five-wicket haul in South Africa, picked up a decade ago, and repeated the trick. A welcome return to the hard yards.
“I sat down at the end of day two and that feeling is what I’d missed: that proper hard day of Test cricket, that proper graft. It was a real battle with Dean Elgar and Rassie vn der Dussen as they put their partnership together.
That’s why I still want to play cricket, that’s what I get a buzz coming off the field after a day like that. It was a pretty hot day as well, so you’re sweaty and you know you’ve put a shift in. It makes all that hard work I’ve put in and the frustration of missing three or four months worthwhile. It’s pleasing to be back”
He was also proud of the way his teammates rallied after a disappointing first day in which they threw away opportunities to post a total of worth and were instead left with 269. Sibley, though, made no such error today and the support from his senior man was appreciated.
“Dom Sibley played brilliantly and Rooty came in and played positively, which helped us. That partnership will stand us in good stead for tomorrow.
“It’s good for us bowlers because it means we can put our feet up. I think he’s shown good signs in his career so far – he hasn’t gone on until today but he’s made some good starts in his Test career. It’s just about getting that confidence and now he’s gone on he knows he can do it, so hopefully he can push on tomorrow and push on in his career as well. Similarly with all the other guys, even Zak Crawley today has done a good job after being thrown in at the last minute. It’s positive signs for us.”
With the rest, Anderson and the rest of the attack can focus on working out how to take 10 more South Africa wickets on a pitch that looks to be flattening out, especially under cloud cover. “We’ll have to wait and see if that plays a part as we play on,” he said when the prospect of giving themselves as much time to create enough chances to win the match was brought up.
Quick runs should not be hard to come by with Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Ollie Pope waiting to come in. Three more good sessions on Monday and a first win at Newlands since 1957 will be well within reach.