Joe Root of England in action during day three of the fourth Test match between South Africa and England at Imperial Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, January 26 2020. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
Joe Root of England in action during day three of the fourth Test match between South Africa and England at Imperial Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, January 26 2020. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

Despite England’s second-innings collapse‚ the visitors are still in the pound seats to win the fourth Test match and wrap up a 3-1 series win over SA.

They are still in total command with a lead of 465 and two days in which to manufacture the SA demise. But by opting not to enforce the follow-on and collapsing in their second innings to 248 all out on day three‚ they gave the hosts a small window to burgle a win.

However‚ captain Joe Root dropped anchor and helped steer them to safety in the late afternoon as SA’s prospects receded with every run added to the scoreboard.

To even get vaguely close will require a supreme batting effort against England’s five-pronged seam attack. On a deteriorating pitch the tourists also have the option of deploying the spin of Joe Denly and captain Root.

The South Africans are staring down both barrels and they are now almost certain to lose their third straight Test series after crashing to Sri Lanka and India in 2019.

As expected, England opted not to enforce the follow-on after they dismissed SA for 183 in their first innings. The 217-run deficit was considerable and such was their position of strength the tourists eschewed the opportunity to make the hosts bat again.

England’s openers started well enough by posting another 50 stand and they did it with relative ease. To be fair‚ the SA attack suffered an early setback when Vernon Philander was forced to leave the field with a hamstring injury halfway through his second over.

He felt discomfort in his right hamstring and left the field for an evaluation. He was then sent for a scan to assess the extent of the injury.

It is unlikely he will bowl again in this innings, which means his decorated Test career will come to an end with the unpalatable figures of 1.3-1-0. He took 2/50 in the first innings.

England went about their business with urgency and as a result they lost wickets.

Beuran Hendricks profited from their less guarded approach by recording his first five-wicket haul.

Though a little expensive due to the fuller length at which he preferred to operate‚ Anrich Nortjé also got in on the act.

England lost wickets at regular intervals.

Ollie Pope’s rash flash handed Quinton de Kock his 200th dismissal in Test cricket. It took him just 46 matches to reach the milestone‚ the fewest in Test cricket. Australia’s Adam Gilchrist did it in one more.

Ben Stokes looked in fine touch until he was caught in the slips.

Like Pope‚ Jos Buttler’s flashing vertical blade was also his undoing as England stuttered slightly. That dismissal and the manner in which it occurred may well mean the end of his Test career.