CAPE TOWN – England survived a late South Africa surge as the second test at Newlands was drawn, with the tourists 159-6 in their second innings on Wednesday.
England finished 161 runs ahead, but had to fend off the South Africans, who took six wickets in two sessions on the final day to provide an unexpectedly eventful finish.
After four days of bright sunshine and perfect batting conditions, England was determinedly defending the draw under gloomy skies in Cape Town when bad light ended play just under two hours before the scheduled finish.
“It was a nervous finish, actually,” England captain Alastair Cook said. “It’s not ideal and we’ll have a chat about it.”
England posted a mammoth 629-6 declared in its first innings, it’s second highest score in South Africa, only for the hosts to respond with a defiant 627-7 declared. England still leads the four-match series 1-0 and is in good position for a first series win over South Africa in 11 years. There are two matches to play, in Johannesburg and Centurion.
South Africa, despite its progress at Newlands, was suddenly hampered with the unexpected announcement after the match that Hashim Amla was stepping down as captain immediately.
“If someone else can add more value, why wait and be a hindrance to the team for two more tests?” Amla posed.
In a test where 1,256 runs were scored in the first two innings on a serene batting pitch where batsmen had few problems, it was a strange finish in Cape Town even before Amla’s decision.
The surface began to offer spin, and nip and bounce for the quick bowlers, and the searing heat gave way to a blanket of gray cloud cover and light drizzle.
Ultimately, England kept its nerve to maintain its lead in the series, while South Africa, under pressure to live up to its No. 1-ranking in tests, found some momentum after a big 241-run defeat in Durban and a hammering for its bowlers at the start at Newlands.
“I know after a day-and-a-half a lot was being written and a lot was being said,” South Africa coach Russell Domingo said. “For us to show that type of resilience with the bat was phenomenal.”
Allrounder Ben Stokes made a stunning 258 from 198 balls in England’s first knock, and Jonny Bairstow provided 150 not out. South Africa pretty much matched that with Amla’s 201 and Temba Bavuma’s maiden test century, the first test hundred by a black South African.
England’s wobbly final day began with the exit of captain Cook in the second over of play. Fellow opener Alex Hales was out next over to a diving one-handed catch by debutant Chris Morris in the slips. Two sessions later, England was six wickets down and Bairstow had just survived a close stumping appeal as the possibility of a come-from-behind win for South Africa was alive.
“When you nick off down the leg side and then sit and watch, it’s not an enjoyable day for a captain, I won’t lie to you,” Cook said.
South Africa’s late rally with the ball was undoubtedly aided by a turnaround in the conditions.
Using the cloudy conditions, fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel removed Cook and Hales swiftly, with neither adding to their overnight scores.
Joe Root hit five fours in his 29, and survived being caught on a Morkel no ball. But it didn’t last long before Morris — with his first delivery of the day — crashed an in-swinging ball into Root’s stumps.
When the normally patient Nick Compton fell for 15 just before lunch to a careless shot off spinner Dane Piedt, England was in trouble.
Stokes, the hero of England’s first innings, fell for 26 to the increasingly influential spin of Piedt, trying for a big shot after lunch. James Taylor was caught bat-pad to give offspinner Piedt his third wicket. England was 116-6.
Bairstow, who finished 30 not out, dragged his foot back in time to avoid that stumping just before tea, and his survival was confirmed after a very long TV referral.
“This was a bit of a disappointing day but it doesn’t really count for anything going to Joburg,” Cook said.
The third test starts on Jan. 14.