SOME Test this. England need 334 off the final 90 overs tomorrow, South Africa need seven wickets. I was in the middle of the South African fans when Kevin Pietersen got given lbw with England on 112-2 chasing an improbable 466 as day four drew to a close at red-hot Newlands.
Umpire Daryl Harper hesitated, gave it... and the much-booed Pietersen immediately called for a review, indicating he’d hit it. Actually he’d smashed it on to his pads. Not out on review, a massive cheer from the Barmy Army, torrents of abuse around me from the locals. This is real cricket. Not your pathetic thrash-and-bash stuff. Five days of sustained tension in extreme heat amid intense beer drinking.
There was no time to relax when, just 17 runs later, Dale Steyn rapped the pads, up went the finger and out went Pietersen for a disappointing six to add to his first innings duckulence. A massive moment in this super showdown, where England are 1-0 up and fighting for their lives in front of a fourth successive sell-out crowd in Cape Town.
The tourists made a sparkling start in the chase for 466 – but never forget, that's a hundred more than anybody has ever made in a fourth innings at Newlands.
Talk of a miracle was simmering among the slowly-baking Barmy Army as England reached the century without loss after 35 overs but then openers Alastair Cook (55 off 116 balls before he skied Friedel De Wet into the welcoming gloves of Mark Boucher) and captain Andrew Strauss (45 off 107, he prodded Paul Harris on to a pad and straight to Hashim Amla) departed in quick succession.
Shortly after tea, Cook – usually so cautious – slapped spinner Harris high over the head of De Wet in the deep, much to the chagrin of the wicket-hungry locals.
And at the other end, Strauss on 25 eased a four safely through the slips off the mighty Morne Morkel, then crashed the hapless Harris to the fence to move England into the 70s. They were definitely not putting safety first as they galloped along at three an over - and the required rate for victory is a modest 3.2.
At 107-2 we saw Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott joined by Pietermtzburg-born Pietersen and we were in the familiar position of having only one foreigner in action –Harris, born in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The multi-national batsmen, so contrasting in styles, ground their way through several mini-crises before Pietersen was trapped on 129 in the 48th over. And now we have nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson, subjected to his first ever golden duck on day three, in with the fiddling, frustrating Trott, who has 24 off 46 balls.
Tomorrow they need 334 or 90 overs of pure defiance . Sunburnt English tourists are hoping for a draw, dreaming of a win. Stranger things have happened. Just ask the Australians after this morning’s epic 37-run win over Pakistan.
When Graeme Smith made his slightly sporting declaration 40 minutes after lunch with South Africa on 447-7, England strode purposefully to the pavilion to prepare for four-and-a-half sessions of resistance with Jimmy Anderson’s eighth wicket of this Test quickly forgotten.
Matt Prior actually ran from the dressing room to the nets to practice his batting - and that after spending a day-and-half wearing voluminous padding and two pairs of gloves in temperatures approaching 40 degrees. This England outfit doesn’t shirk hard work.
The general consensus was that Smith had been generous. He could have batted on until tea. Instead he left England to survive for 146 overs – which is not as many as they successfully endured in Johannesburg in 1995, when Michael Atherton led a stoic defence spanning 165 overs. Mind you, England only had to survive 96 overs in the drawn first Test at Centurion and South Africa were leaning heavily on last man Graham Onions by the finish.
Though it may be impossible to rule out anything after Australia's bookmaker-bashing victory in Sydney, Strauss's weary men should still be staring defeat in the face sometime tomorrow afternoon and we’ll be heading for the final Test in Johannesburg next Thursday with the series locked at 1-1.
The highest winning fourth innings score at this ground on the slopes of Table Mountain is 334-6, made when Australia beat South Africa in 2002... though the West Indies managed 354-5 when they held on for a draw at Newlands in 2004.
Still, considering their hopeless position this morning, England – their seamers pilloried on the front page of the local Cape Times for causing a "BALL TAMPERING FURORE" - plugged away manfully after the departure of South African captain Graeme Smith for a magnificent 183. And his final denouement came courtesy of what was later revealed to be a Graham Onions no ball.
Then obdurate first innings centurion Kallis went for 46 and AB De Villiers fell after lunch, superby caught by Stuart Broad at mid-off for 46 as he became Anderson’s seventh victim.
Spinner Graeme Swann then had Mark Boucher’s top edge caught by Ian Bell for 15, his 19thwicket of the series, leaving Anderson to claim JP Duminy for 36 and force the declaration.
The only hard-working bowler left without a wicket was Broad, who sparked the so-called ball-tampering storm this morning.
He chose to stop a drive with his studded boot just after lunch yesterday, saying afterwards he was too tired to field it in temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
The South Africans saw it differently. They replayed footage of the incident on television again and again, added a bit of Jimmy Anderson ball-picking and came up with allegations which they referred to match referee Roshan Mahanama, but refused to turn into a full-blown complaint. The ICC will take no further action.
Geoff Boycott's exclusive assessment in the loo downstairs? "Ball tampering? There's nothing going on at all. The umpires looked at the ball and found nothing. "