Zak Crawley ended a streak of 16 innings without a half-century to put England on the brink of a test series victory over South Africa at the Oval on Sunday.
Crawley’s 57 not out helped England reach 97 without loss at stumps, meaning the hosts need just 33 more runs on Monday to chase down a fourth-innings target of 130 and secure a 2-1 series win.
The win could even have been wrapped up on Sunday had bad light not brought an early finish 23 minutes before the scheduled 7 p.m. close, prompting some boos in the crowd. That would have made it effectively a two-day test after Day 1 of the third test was washed out and Day 2 was called off as a mark of respect for Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday.
After South Africa collapsed from 83-1 to 169 all out in its second innings, with three wickets apiece for Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, Alex Lees was dropped from the first ball of England’s chase by Marco Jansen.
While Lees grew in fluency and ended the day on 32 not out, the out-of-form Crawley needed just 36 balls to reach his fifty.
England’s seamers had earlier capitalized on lavish movement although they were unwittingly given a helping hand by South Africa captain Dean Elgar, who neglected to review an lbw verdict against him, with replays showing Broad’s delivery would have whistled past leg-stump.
Elgar became Broad’s 564th test victim, which moved him ahead of Australia great Glenn McGrath and into fifth in the all-time list of wicket-takers in the longest format.
There were scoring opportunities for South Africa, though, with James Anderson and Broad untypically expensive before lunch, prompting Stokes into bowling duties for the first time in the test. In his first over he angled one across Sarel Erwee, who departed for 26 after a tentative push was taken low at first slip.
Elgar survived two hopeful lbw appeals from England before the umpire raised his finger from the third after Broad bowled fuller.
Pinned on the front pad, Elgar began trudging off for 36 before the umpire had finished raising his finger but replays indicated the ball would have missed leg stump.
Perhaps with Elgar’s non-review in the back of his mind, Ryan Rickelton queried being given out against another length ball from Broad but this was plumb and he was on his way. Anderson found the edge of Keegan Petersen for 23.
Wiaan Mulder was pushed up to No. 6, above Kyle Verreynne, and resisted alongside Khaya Zondo for 14.2 overs but Ollie Robinson returned to the attack to snare both.
Stokes then produced a devilish inswinger through the gate as South Africa lost its sixth wicket of the session. Finishing the over after tea, Kagiso Rabada thick-edged to Harry Brook to give Stokes a double wicket maiden.
Broad and Anderson returned to claim a wicket each as South Africa subsided with a notional 35 overs left on Sunday as England ended the day how they started it: by batting.