England’s hopes of squaring their Test series against South Africa flickered briefly before heavy rain brought an early end to the fourth day of the second Test at Headingley on Sunday.
A fluent innings of 68 by Matt Prior gave England a six-run first innings lead with the hope of bowling out an injury-hit South African team cheaply in a second innings that started shortly before lunch.
However, opening batsmen Graeme Smith and Jacques Rudolph resisted some hostile bowling before a mid-afternoon thunderstorm — the second rain stoppage of the day — ended play with South Africa on 39 for no wicket, a lead of 33.
“It’s very frustrating,” Prior said. “To get a small lead and put South Africa under a bit of pressure, it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to bowl all day at them and pick up a few wickets going into the last day.”
Prior said the positive side of the lost playing time was that it meant there were only two possible results — a draw or an England win.
“For them to know they have to bat out a day can sometimes be quite tough,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to lose, we have to come very hard tomorrow morning. It’ll take a bit of luck and a lot of skill, but who knows?”
Smith was one of three of South Africa’s regular top four batsmen carrying an injury.
He had to be helped off the field on Saturday after falling heavily on his left knee.
However, he led his side onto the field with the knee heavily strapped and when he batted, he did not appear to be hampered in his running between the wickets.
Rudolph opened the batting with Smith in place of first innings century-maker Alviro Petersen, who did not field because of a hamstring injury and will be unable to bat until five wickets have fallen.
South Africa suffered a further injury blow when all-rounder Jacques Kallis could not take the field on Sunday because of back spasms.
South African team manager Mohammed Moosajee said Kallis was the major concern.
“Jacques has a an issue with lower back spasms. He has had this problem before. Playing 17 years of international cricket, being an all-rounder and the load that his body has to handle, every now and again his back will seize,” he said. “We’ll monitor him overnight. There have been times when Jacques responds within a day, but there have been times when it takes four or five days.”
Moosajee said Petersen was responding to treatment, but was about seven days away from full fitness, although he would bat if necessary.
He said Smith had jammed his left knee into the ground.
“We assume he has damaged something but will have a proper look once the Test match is over,” he said.
South Africa lead the three-match series 1-0 after winning the first Test at the Oval by an innings and 12 runs. They will overtake England at the top of the world Test rankings if they win the series.
Short of a sensational collapse by South Africa yesterday, a draw is probable at Headingley, leaving England needing to win the final Test at Lord’s, starting on Aug. 16, to stay at No. 1.
England were bowled out for 425 shortly before lunch on Sunday.
South Africa were five for no wicket in their second innings when lightning and rain drove the players off the field three balls into what would probably have been the last over before lunch.
After a two-hour delay, which included the lunch break, only another hour of play was possible before the players had to leave the field again.