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South Africa set England mammoth fourth innings target

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South Africa achieved their dual objectives of setting England a fourth innings chase far in excess of anything that has previously been achieved and of subjecting the pitch to another day of wear and tear on the third day of the second Test match at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Sunday.

When Faf du Plessis finally declared, leaving his bowlers four overs to attack the tired England batsmen before the close, the home side faced a target of 474 in some 184 overs. 

Alastair Cook survived a reviewed decision off the first ball of England’s second innings delivered by Morne Morkel. He was given out lbw by umpire Paul Reiffel but the reviewed showed the ball clearing the stumps.

There were several other hair-raising deliveries for England to survive before they finished the day on 1/0.

Of the two targets the Proteas would have set themselves, occupying the crease for most of the day would have been the more important one. As the day’s play unfolded deliveries were starting to get up and down with Du Plessis being dismissed leg before wicket by a delivery from Ben Stokes that hit him on the ankle.

Bearing in mind the fact that England have five left-handers among their top seven batsmen they would not have been pleased to see their own left arm spinner, Liam Dawson, extract both turn and bounce to Morkel with a delivery that he pitched into the bowler’s rough outside the left-hander’s leg stump.

The Proteas now have two full days to complete the job and achieve a series-levelling victory that would be no more than they deserve. They have bossed this game virtually throughout the first three days.

It has been a wonderful Test debut in England for Du Plessis who was a member of the last squad here in 2012 but did not get a game. From the moment he won the toss and even before that in the selection room he has got everything right and his contribution included an innings of 63 today (128 balls, 9 fours) as he cemented the foundation that had been laid by Dean Elgar (80 off 136 balls, 12 fours) and Hashim Amla (87 off 180 balls, 14 fours and a six).

The latter’s second wicket partnership of 133 was the highest in the match to date with the only other three-figure stand being the 113 between Amla and Quinton de Kock in the first innings.

It goes almost without saying that Vernon Philander also contributed with his 42 (75 balls, 3 fours and 2 sixes) before being out on the declaration trying to hit Moeen Ali for a third successive six. Philander currently has a series batting average of 55.66 and has made the No. 7 position his own for the foreseeable future.

Moeen had the best bowling figures for England of 4/78 although the honours on their side probably belonged to Stokes and Jimmy Anderson who took two wickets each.