Second Test intriguingly poised

The Second Test between South Africa and West Indies is poised on a knife-edge at the end of day three, with the tourists leading by 18 with 6 wickets remaining. Shivnarine Chanderpaul remains at the crease, alongside an injured Chris Gayle, with Dwayne Bravo to follow. After that, little can be hoped for, and the hosts know they are probably two early breakthroughs tomorrow away from a series-levelling victory.

Much of the day’s play was something approaching turgid, despite an outfield quickened-up by the cutting of the grass in the morning. South Africa’s only recognised pair begun at the crease, and they continued to inch their team up towards, and finally past, West Indies’ total. From 218 overnight, a partnership of 87, they moved the total on to 260 before being parted. Jerome Taylor managed 3 overs first-up, but was clearly unfit, and with Fidel Edwards remaining off the field duties were once again left to the seemingly inexhaustible Bravo and Daren Powell. For 26 overs the two seamers battled on, with Gayle reluctant to call on Marlon Samuels or the despairing Rawl Lewis, still seeking his 2nd Test wicket 8 years after his maiden one.

Bravo’s toil was finally rewarded when Boucher, having reached 59, bottom-edged an attempted pull stroke into his stumps. Paul Harris did not last long, edging a good one from Powell to Runako Morton at second-slip. Prince, however, managed to squeeze invaluable stands out of Andre Nel and Dale Steyn, and after being missed on 91 by substitute Darren Sammy, who completely misjudged a swirling top-edged hook (thus denying Bravo what would have been a thoroughly well-deserved five-wicket haul), a century seemed to be his for the taking. He had his own turn at misjudging a ball in the deep, however, when after reaching 97 he attempted a second to keep the strike. He pushed the ball to third-man, turned, but the ball, which appeared to be going wide of Taylor, spun back towards him and his excellent throw caught Prince, despite a dive, well short.

West Indies would have been disappointed they were unable to wrap-up the innings there and then, but Steyn and Ntini added another 20 precious runs before Lewis finally got his name back on the Test wickets list (scything his average down to 207) as Steyn slogged one out to Morton at deep-mid-wicket. The home side had eked-out a lead of 78, though, and with Gayle unable to open would have had high hopes of an early breakthrough.

They too were to be frustrated, however, as Denesh Ramdin did a surprisingly skillful job, alongside Daren Ganga, of repelling some impossibly economical bowling: Nel’s opening 7 overs cost just 5, while Ntini, incredibly, reeled-off 5 consecutive maidens. Steyn, far from fit himself having batted with a runner, was down on pace and did not threaten early on, and bowled just 3 out of the first 27 overs. In the last of those 27, though, Kallis finally dislodged Ramdin, with another superb outswinger that just caught the outside-edge and gave Boucher his 390th Test catch. He soon had his 391st, as Steyn returned and immediately found outswing of his own, catching Morton’s edge as he drove injudiciously at one outside off.

Ganga and Marlon Samuels continued to frustrate the South Africans, though, occupying 12 overs over scoring 21. It was to the bowlers’ credit that they maintained impeccable lines throughout, and even as West Indies moved into the lead did not drop their heads. Ntini finally broke through, returning in the 40th and coercing Ganga into a drive, which ricocheted off the inside-edge, onto the pads, onto the stumps. Ganga has fought hard this tour but it has been the same story as most of his Test career; he simply has not been able to go on with starts. This time he was gone for a 112-ball 22. Nel finally got the wicket that was more than his due – he sent down 15 overs for 14 and constantly beat the edge – when he moved one back to win an lbw against Samuels, having had a similar appeal turned down overs before from a ball which would have passed centimetres over the stumps.

Chanderpaul and Gayle were not made to play enough in the closing overs, but given good weather a close finish might well be in the offing. West Indies know the rewards for success would be rich; South Africa know the price of failure would be substantial. A bad morning tomorrow for either team could potentially decide the match; several deliveries today took pieces out of the pitch, and chasing 150 will be no foregone conclusion. If Gayle were to get away as only he can, a far-from-simple target of 200 could suddenly be on the cards. On the other hand, dismissing both overnight batsmen early on would mean the game was South Africa’s to lose.

West Indies 243
Chris Gayle 46, Marlon Samuels 51, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 65*
Dale Steyn 4-60, Andre Nel 3-61

South Africa 321
Ashwell Prince 98, Mark Boucher 59
Dwayne Bravo 4-82

West Indies 96 for 4

West Indies lead by 18 runs with 6 second-innings wickets remaining

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