|Third Test, Port Elizabeth, (day three of five):
|England 499-9 dec: Pope 135*, Stokes 120; Maharaj 5-180
|South Africa 208-6: De Kock 63*; Bess 5-51
|South Africa trail by 291 runs
Dom Bess took his maiden Test five-wicket haul to tighten England’s grip on the third Test against South Africa on a weather-hit third day in Port Elizabeth.
Off-spinner Bess – who was not in England’s original tour party – took the first three wickets to fall, adding to the two he took on Friday evening, to reduce the home side to 109-5 in response to England’s 499-9 declared.
The tourists were held up by a rain delay that lasted almost four hours, then a classy unbeaten 63 from Quinton de Kock, who was dropped three times at slip by Ben Stokes.
De Kock was first supported by nightwatchman Anrich Nortje, who survived for 136 balls, and then Vernon Philander, who was 27 not out at the close.
In conditions relying entirely on the floodlights, South Africa reached 208-6 at the close, still 291 behind.
Even with the possibility of more bad weather on the final two days, England have put themselves in a fantastic position to go 2-1 up with one Test to play.
They will have use of a new ball that is only three deliveries old on Sunday, and will then perhaps be faced with a decision about whether or not to enforce the follow-on.
England set up victory push
After piling on such a huge total and reducing South Africa to 60-2 on day two, England’s mission on Saturday was to ram home their advantage.
Despite the dark, damp conditions seeming ideally suited to pace bowling, the pitch is offering more assistance to the spinners – so it was Bess who came to the fore.
England’s position might have been even stronger had they held every chance that came their way. De Kock was missed on 30 and 56 by Ben Stokes off Joe Root, then again on 63 in the penultimate over of the day when Joe Denly was the bowler. Nortje was also put down by Root and Ollie Pope narrowly failed to hold two half-chances at short leg.
In the morning session, when Bess was wreaking havoc, there was the danger that South Africa would completely subside. Not only was the wicket threat constant, but the scoreboard barely advanced.
Later, when De Kock arrived, England’s momentum was halted – just one wicket fell in the final 40 overs of the day.
Still, England have plenty of time to force victory. If they do manage to wrap up the tail before South Africa add another 92 runs, they will have to decide between attempting to bowl the hosts out again, or batting them out of the game and setting up a final-day push for victory.
Like Pope, who made a century on Friday, Bess is 22 and has returned to Test cricket this winter after a previous attempt that yielded two caps.
In his time away from the England scene, the Somerset man had to go on loan to Yorkshire to play County Championship cricket and, at the end of the 2019 season, was given time away from the game by his county, who felt he was in need of a break.
After England arranged for him to work with former Sri Lanka spinner Rangana Herath in India, he was called to South Africa as cover and impressed enough in the nets to become first choice.
On Saturday, he exploited the helpful conditions to find turn and bounce and become the youngest England spinner to take five wickets in a Test innings since 1968.
Dean Elgar was well held by Pope at silly point, Faf du Plessis prodded to the same man at short leg and Rassie van der Dussen was bowled trying to cut one that turned back into the stumps.
Bess was denied a sixth when Nortje was dropped by Root at slip and it was the partnership of Nortje and De Kock that eventually ended his spell of 23 overs.
South Africa resist
Nortje played an important hand as nightwatchman in South Africa’s first-Test victory at Centurion Park, and again showed bravery and determination in a three-hour stay at the crease.
He survived more deliveries than the rest of the top five put together and his efforts were only matched by the sublime De Kock, who made light of the situation to score any time England’s bowlers erred.
The left-hander played on-drives and cuts, dishing out particular treatment to Mark Wood, who again bowled with pace but without accuracy.
When Nortje was eventually drawn into edging Stokes to first slip, he sank to his knees in disappointment, giving way to Philander, who matched De Kock’s eagerness to score.
By the end of the day, the near darkness meant England were using exclusively spin to try and break a partnership that stands at 54.
If and when conditions improve on Sunday, the likes of Stuart Broad – who has bowled only 11 overs – will use the new ball to provide a fresh challenge to the South Africa lower order.
Bess ‘hunting’ four remaining wickets – what they said
England’s Dom Bess on Sky Sports: “It was awesome. I love bowling so for me to have that responsibility and to back it up is something for me that is very important. It gives me confidence to get that under my belt. There are four more [wickets] out there. I am hunting for them.
“I certainly didn’t [think I would be here a few weeks ago]. It is funny how cricket comes around. I thought I would have a nice Christmas at home with the family. Hopefully it is the start of something longer.”
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “Every time we ask the question about Ben Stokes’ fitness, we are told he is fit to bowl. It’s impossible to get to the bottom of what is going on. But there does seem to be a real reluctance to bowl him.
“I don’t know why it has taken 61 overs to get him on today – and then he comes on and gets a wicket. Why he’s suddenly fit to bowl one moment and not earlier on, I don’t know.”
Former Ireland bowler Tim Murtagh on The Cricket Social: “The safety blanket in the back of England’s minds will be the hard, new ball, ready in the morning. The fast bowlers should be pretty fresh. If they get one of these two out, the other three could happen pretty quickly.”
Article courtesy of BBC Sport