Jonny Bairstow inspired an England recovery in a last-gasp effort to prevent South Africa dethroning his team as the world’s best Test side at Lord’s yesterday.
England, at lunch on the fifth day of the third and final Test against the Proteas, were 120 for four — still needing a further 226 runs to reach their daunting victory target of 346.
Their position was even worse when Bairstow, who made a gallant 95 after coming in at 54 for four in the first innings having replaced Kevin Pietersen, walked out to bat at 45 for four yesterday.
However, Bairstow, whose unbeaten 43 off 36 balls included seven fours, had so far helped Jonathan Trott (57 not out) add 75 for the fifth wicket.
South Africa-born Trott, having started the day on 6 not out, went on to complete a 126-ball half-century with six fours.
History was against England as the most they had ever made in the fourth innings to win a Test was the 332 for seven they posted against Australia in Melbourne in 1928-1929.
South Africa, 1-0 up in the series after an innings win at The Oval was followed by a draw at Headingley, only had to avoid defeat at Lord’s to replace England at the top of the world Test rankings.
Vernon Philander, who had removed England captain Andrew Strauss, in his 100th Test, and fellow left-handed opener Alastair Cook late on Sunday to reduce the hosts to 16 for two at the close of the fourth day, struck again early yesterday when he had Ian Bell caught, at the second attempt, for his overnight score of 4 by Proteas captain Graeme Smith at first slip.
England were 34 for three at that point.
The last thing England needed then was a run out, but confusion between Trott and James Taylor over a fourth run saw the latter dismissed after Hashim Amla’s throw was relayed by Dale Steyn to wicketkeeper A.B. de Villiers.
Trott, having struck two fours in successive balls off Jacques Kallis, almost fell to the pace bowling allrounder next delivery when, on 33, he edged an attempted cover drive and Jacques Rudolph dropped a tough chance at third slip.
Bairstow showed his class with several boundaries off fast bowler Steyn, the best a straight drive down the ground, and leg-spinner Imran Tahir also got the Bairstow treatment, lofted straight and swept for two fours in successive deliveries.
Only the West Indies have managed 300 or more (344 for one) in the fourth innings to win a Lord’s Test, but England fast bowler Steven Finn was optimistic about his team’s chances.
“As a team collectively over the last number of years, we’ve enjoyed breaking records and defying people’s beliefs against us,” Finn said. “So tomorrow, we’ve got a 15-over-old ball to bat against — which isn’t going to do as much as a new ball, obviously. We’ve got a great opportunity to assert ourselves on the South Africans early and we really do believe in the dressing room that we can win this game.”