England on brink of first home Test win since 2005

Two quick wickets late in the gloom have given England a shot at claiming their first home Test win since 2005 as they left South Africa on the brink at 55 for three, still 78 runs behind.

That we may still see a result is a testament to England’s gumption, first with the bat, then with a positive declaration, and then with the ball as Issy Wong scorched the Proteas with some searing heat, removing Lara Goodall and Laura Wolvaardt in consecutive overs.

The day was defined by rain, which fell at various stages and meant those of us watching were better acquainted with the Somerset ground staff than we were with the players. No matter. Provided we get enough overs in on Thursday, and provided England emerge in the morning with the same intent, they’ll fancy their chances against an opponent against the ropes.

The day began with England on 326 for six after Alice Davidson-Richards fell for 107 on the final ball on Tuesday evening. Nat Sciver was still not-out, however, and eager to add to her overnight score of 119. She took guard with Sophie Eccelstone for company, and though the pair were cautious at first, they soon found the rope with regularity.

Sciver was imperious, clattering drives on the up and bludgeoning Nonkululeko’s finger spin on her way to an unbeaten 169. The Proteas twirler had Eccelstone out lbw, but not before England’s premier spinner had registered 35. When Kate Cross was run-out with a direct hit, Heather Knight called Sciver in at 417 for eight for a lead of 133 before lunch.

Cross made up for her misdemeanour by tempting Andrie Steyn into a prod away from her body to claim the double over the South African opener. Sciver’s sharp catch in the gully underlined her all-round talents.

And then the rain fell. It persisted until after the lunch break and abated enough for a brief period of play that saw Cross hit a wonderfully probing channel to Wolvardt, starving the South African of run scoring options. But the show was cut short. The rain returned and that seemed to be that.

It was a frustrating passage with the exasperation exacerbated by the fact that this Test is a one-off. England last played a two-match series back in 2006. South Africa last played a Test in 2014. These are rare events that require clemency from the cricket gods.

Mercifully, the covers were whipped off at 6:30pm and we got 13 more overs before it really got too dark. Cross and Sciver kept it tight from one end while Wong whizzed it from the other. She was lucky with the Goodall wicket and can thank ‘keeper Amy Jones for a sharp grab down the leg side, but she was fully deserving of the Wolvaardt scalp. Her aggression and uncomfortably short length meant the batter played at one she’d ordinarily leave.

It’s England’s game to win. If only the weather plays ball.

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