49th over: England 133-1 (Burns 78, Denly 21) Another unpleasant lifter from Rabada to Denly is well saved by de Kock. Rabada goes a bit straighter, in the hope for something similar, but the bounce is even and Denly works a single off the pads.
That’s the first rotation of strike this morning – and almost the end of Burns. He overbalanced as he turned Rabada to backward short leg, where the substitute Rudi Second reacted brilliantly to grab the ball on the bounce and fling it at the stumps. It missed by a whisker with Burns out of his ground.
48th over: England 131-1 (Burns 77, Denly 20) Burns hasn’t scored a run this morning, mainly because he has been stuck at Philander’s end. It’s an intriguing game of patience between the two: four overs, four maidens.
47th over: England 131-1 (Burns 77, Denly 20) Madon, what a shot from Joe Denly! Rabada’s first ball was a fraction short, and Denly launched into a majestic swivel-pull for six. Ricky Ponting could hardly have played that better. Rabada’s next ball lifts grotesquely outside off stump, with de Kock leaping to save four byes. That uneven bounce is a concern for lovers of England miracles.
“I cannot believe that what has just happened is legal!” says Steve D. “A man came on with a hammer and proceeded to smash to pitch around and in front of the crease line!! Does that not constitute changing the pitch conditions?”
If he did it on a good length, there would be an international incident, but he was just doing it to improve the bowlers’ foothold. Any delivery that pitches there will be a yorker, so it doesn’t matter what state the pitch is in.
46th over: England 125-1 (Burns 77, Denly 14) Philander continues to Burns. Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip: a maiden. This is excellent stuff from South Africa, though England’s batsmen have so far played with the requisite patience. As Mike Atherton says on Sky, they just have to “suck it up” for a while.
“I just noticed that there are two little white lines a few metres up the edge of the track from the crease,” says Garry Sharp. “What are they for?”
Robbie Fowler tribute celebrations? I have no idea I’m afraid. I can’t even see them. Do you the mean the ones by the slip cordon? I assume that’s where the wicketkeeper de Kock wants to stand for each bowler.
45th over: England 125-1 (Burns 77, Denly 14) Rabada has an optimistic LBW appeal against Denly turned down by Paul Reiffel. Missing leg. Denly is then beaten by a delivery that keeps very low. There have been early signs of uneven bounce at Rabada’s end. South Africa will be pleased with the accuracy and intensity of their start – England have scored only four runs in four overs, and they came from an involuntary edge.
“My plan to recuperate with an Ally Pally hangover revolves around me staying on the sofa with cricket, football and darts for company,” says John Dalby. “Its success hinges on England batting through until tea. What are my chances?”
Touch and go, I’d say, but at a push you can always watch a repeat of Luke Humphries v Jermaine Wattimena from earlier in the tournament. Or just go back to bed.
44th over: England 125-1 (Burns 77, Denly 14) Philander seams a beauty past Burns’ defensive push. He has started immaculately and remains the biggest threat to England. Burns, that play and miss aside, is leaving him well outside off stump, which is not easy against a relentless line bowler like Philander. Excellent stuff so far.
“Good morning, Rob,” says Ian Copestake. “If the TV cameras do seek out ‘the beautiful, the famous or the wacky’ (The Spirit of Cricket, Rob Smyth) they may stumble across the latter in the form of an actual friend of mine who it turns out is a member of the Barmy Army. He is at the ground and may well lead some singing, and if his girlfriend has brought her ukulele then she might get upgraded to famous.”
Crikey, did I write that? I have no memory of that whatsoever. Then again, I can barely remember what I wrote in the 42nd over. And it’s all downhill from here!
43rd over: England 125-1 (Burns 77, Denly 14) Kagiso Rabada starts at the other end to Denly, who gets a thick edge to third man for four. The previous delivery popped nastily outside off stump, a reminder that this pitch hasn’t completely gone to sleep. The next 37 overs, before the second new ball is available, are so important. I reckon England can afford to lose no more than two wickets in that time.
42nd over: England 121-1 (Burns 77, Denly 10) Philander doesn’t do looseners. His first ball is right on the money and defended by Burns, and his first over is a maiden.
“Good morning Rob from bright and frosty Piedmont,” says Finbar Anslow. “Last night the South Piedmontese Christmas film appreciation society watched It’s a Wonderful Life and I can confirm it’s still up there as one of the best festive feelgood movies; now if only England had a couple of George Baileys (and maybe a Clarence would be useful).”
It’s time for some cricket. Vernon Philander will open the bowling to Rory Burns.
“Good morning, Rob,” says Eva Maaten. “After attending to family obligations in Europe we made it back to SA in time for day four of this exciting Test – I’m very grateful to Burns for ensuring there is still some cricket to be played today. Overcast and cooler today; what do you think that means for the pitch and England’s chances? We seemed to have ended up in the middle of a touring group of England fans with some very enthusiastic looking SA supporters just across the aisle – this should be a fun day!”
The Sky Sports pundits all think the cool weather is good for England because it should delay the deterioration of the pitch. I still think South Africa are strong favourites, though I’m in a minority: most reckon it’s 60/40 in their favour. I’d make it 80/20.
Joe Root and Jos Buttler are at the ground and apparently feeling better.
Hello. The secret of eternal youth is not yoga, serums, goji berries or even a generous swig of Cognac every morning. It’s being an England cricket fan. You heard.
Never mind all that facial stuff: if you want to feel truly alive, and experience the kind of extreme emotions usually reserved for teens and twentysomethings, just support this team. Ecstasy, anxiety, mirth, bewilderment, rage: you get them all with England – often in the same match, sometimes in the same day.
The last 12 months have possibly been the most rejuvenating of the lot. Today should be England’s last day of cricket in 2019 – a year that has included a World Cup victory in whateverthehellthatfinalwas, a Headingley miracle, Test match scores of 67, 77 and 85 all out, the emergence of Jofra Archer and so much more. I suppose it’s only fair that they put us through this addictive wringer one last time.
All things being equal, this match will end in one of three ways for England: miserable defeat, noble defeat or astonishing victory. (Don’t mention the tie.) They will resume on 121 for one, needing a further 255 runs for victory on a strange pitch that behaved far better yesterday than on the second day.
South Africa are still healthy favourites – I’d give England a one in five chance – but both sides will be conscious of recent history: England at Headingley in August and South Africa against Kusal Perera in February.
Whatever happens, there will be moments today when we’ll all feel alive, and there won’t be a serum in sight. We might need the Cognac, though.