South Africa may have lost the Test series against England, but they still would be keen to finish the series on a winning note. Three days into the Centurion Test, they have been the dominant side, outshining the Englishmen with both the bat and ball. They ended day three with a significant lead of 175, and also with nine wickets in hand. They must look to push for a 300 target, since they have wickets in hand, and declare as soon as possible so that their bowlers have enough time to get England all out for a second time.
South Africa have managed to set quite a few things right in the three days at Centurion, as opposed to their performance in the two Tests which they lost. Opening was a massive concern, and while Dean Elgar continues to remain inconsistent, Stephen Cook came in and hit a hundred in his very first Test innings. This will give South Africa plenty of confidence considering the pair of Stiaan van Zyl and Elgar have constantly failed to give the hosts poor start. Even though it is too early his career, Cook has shown enough in his two visits to the crease so far that he has it in him to succeed.
Cook apart the hundred from Hashim Amla in only his second Test after quitting captaincy was also significant. Amla was out of form for long time, one of the prime reasons he quit captaincy. He managed a hundred at Cape Town, but that was a batting friendly surface. The Centurion hundred will give him more pleasure since it was as fluent a hundred as he has scored in recent times. Another tick in the box was the century scored by Quinton de Kock. Dane Vilas has played a few Tests while de Kock was away. And, while he is a decent keeper, he clearly hasn't done enough with the bat to justify his place in the playing eleven.
South Africa have gone into a number of Tests recently without Dale Steyn, who has been battling constant injury issues. Against that backdrop, Kagiso Rabada's seven-for which helped South Africa run through England's batting means a lot. While Morne Morkel is someone who bowls his heart out, he doesn't seem to possess that x-factor needed to lead the attack. Rabada has now claimed two five-fors in a row, which clearly is a good sign as Steyn approaches the end of his illustrious career. Also, they would like to have better support from the likes of Dane Piedt and Kyle Abbott, and not just depend on a couple of bowlers.
Over the last few months, South African cricket has been given a massive reality check. The series in India proved that they were not invincible anymore. And now, England too have got the better of them, that too at the latter's home venue. In this period, AB de Villiers too has suffered a bit. Under pressure, his form has not been as golden as it used to be. A win at Centurion will not set things straight overnight. But, it will give them hope that they are on the path to recovery.
-- By A Cricket Analyst