England 629-6 dec., South Africa 353-3
The gods of cricket give, and they take away. Yesterday they gave us one of the most brutal, thrilling, spectacular innings of Test cricket you are ever likely to see; today they gave us six and a half hours of Amla dead-batting on a flat pitch. South Africa – or, more precisely, AB, Hashim and Faf – made 212 runs in the day at less than two and a half runs an over. Yesterday Bairstow and Stokes made 312 runs in 39 overs, at eight runs an over. These two events took place on the same pitch, under the same blue skies, both against highly skilled bowlers; and in both cases the chances were few and far between, and those chances that did occur weren’t taken. The approach South Africa are taking, of effectively batting for a draw from half way through day two, means that they have virtually ruled out any chance they might have had of winning the game by out-Stokesing England, putting on a huge total and bowling England out quickly on a wearing pitch on the last day. After today’s play, England’s chances of winning have diminished too, because now virtually their only chance to take another seventeen wickets in the last two days requires that they enforce the follow-on , and I am not sure that’s something Cook would do even in these circumstances.
After play I went for sundowners at the Vineyard, the England camp’s hotel and also home to much of the press pack, with Hazel, Ian, Diane, Matt, Jason and Kate. We had a lovely evening chatting and exchanging tour anecdotes and interesting cricket stats, only marred by two things: they wrongly served me a dish with prawns in (I am a vegetarian), and Kate slipped over on some rotting hibiscus blooms on the terrace and hurt her ankle. No cricketer selfies today, unfortunately – I wouldn’t want to disturb them during a Test, especially after such a gruelling day – but it was a nice evening in good company.