Jonathan Trott recovered from his part in James Taylor’s run out to reach a half-century
Lunch England 315 and 120 for 4 (Trott 57*, Bairstow 43*) need 226 more runs to beat South Africa 309 and 351
The verve of Jonny Bairstow carried England’s fight on the final day of the third Test as they chased a victory target of 346 against South Africa that, until his arrival at the crease, had seemed entirely forlorn.
Bairstow’s ebullience brought him 43 not out in 36 balls by lunch, an enterprising innings from a batsman who looked at a world-class South Africa attack, and what history insisted was an all-too impossible target, and looked it squarely in the eye. England, on this evidence, have uncovered a gem. At the very least, as England pursued a fourth-innings target of a magnitude that they have never achieved in their Test history, he was fulfilling the role of the entertainer at a wake.
From the non-striker’s end, Jonathan Trott, a battle-hardened senior professional, who had been clouded with self-doubt, looked at the attacking ambition of a young shaver and imagined that whatever logic insisted there might be a way after all. Trott’s contribution to an unbroken partnership of 75 in 84 balls became more prominent as it progressed.
As Trott reached his fifty one sensed looking at the England balcony that some joker had reminded James Taylor to applaud and smile, too, if only for the sake of the TV cameras. The run out of Taylor had been England’s nadir, a dawdle tinged with defeatism for which Trott had to take the majority, if not all, the blame.
When Trott clipped Dale Steyn wide of mid-on, and Hashim Amla chased towards long on, the lack of running urgency suggested that both batsmen had settled for an easy three. Steyn, the bowler, was so convinced the action was complete that he collected his sun hat from the umpire at the end of the over before the call of “over.”
But Trott turned, presumably just for show, in invitation of a fourth. Taylor, who was running to the danger end, accepted the invitation with alacrity only for Trott to infirm him with turned back that he did not really mean it after all. Taylor was stranded and Steyn’s throw to the wicketkeeper completed the run out.
Until he surfed on Bairstow’s wave, Trott was in danger of burying ever deeper into his own brain. He was an out-of-sorts batsmen forced to play out well of his comfort zone, neither conveying security nor maintaining a decent strike rate. He managed to give the impression of attacking zeal without ever moving the score along, playing and missing regularly.
Any batsman had a right to struggle against an attack of high quality, in such favourable bowling conditions. South Africa had had his measure throughout the series and it showed. By lunch, his resolve recalibrated by the ambition of his youthful partner, he had 57 from 131 balls, and life outside his comfort zone seemed a life worth living, even if only for a while.
For England to be 16 for 2 overnight off 13 overs was no sort of platform. Once Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook had been dismissed, Trott and Ian Bell just lived for survival in expectation of a more comfortable morning. But the morning was overcast and the ball hooped around for every South Africa pace bowler in turn. Instead of easing into the task, they awoke with a start, unable to cope, shocked into action as if responding to an unwanted alarm call after a heavy night on the town.
Bell managed to add only a single, taking his score to 4 from 37 balls before he drove without conviction at Philander and was caught by Graeme Smith at first slip, South Africa’s captain needing two attempts to clamp giant hands around the ball.
When Taylor became the fourth England batsman to fall, England had scrambled 29 in 13 overs, aware of the target but unable to develop any coherent attempt about how to approach it. Taylor bats. In contrast to Bairstow, Taylor, in only his second Test, could hope only for survival. His move to Trent Bridge has given him necessary exposure against the moving ball, but rarely to the standards that he faced here.
The run-out mishap shook Trott into life. He drove Kallis sweetly to the cover boundary, was dropped in the same over, on 33, by Jacques Rudolph at third slip and then drew heart as Bairstow carried the fight, driving Steyn, pulling Morne Morkel and greeting Imran Tahir’s arrival with two boundaries in an over.