CAPE TOWN: England lost four wickets on the last morning of the second test against South Africa as overcast conditions brightened up action and offered the possibility of a dramatic finish on Wednesday.
England were 87-4 at lunch, with James Taylor (23) and Ben Stokes (two) not out, seeking to keep batting to take the game away from their hosts after the top order had been dismissed.
Cloud cover over Newlands for the first time in the test finally offered bowlers the swing that had been missing over the previous four searingly-hot days and saw South Africa claim quick wickets to spice up the game and boost hopes of claiming an unlikely victory.
England’s top four batsmen looked short on confidence as a little moisture in the air and an absence of wind gave bowlers a window of opportunity.
England started the day on 16-0 in their second innings, having an 18-run lead over South Africa after both posted high-scoring totals in the first innings.
Cook (eight) was strangled down the leg side and caught by wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock off Kagiso Rabada’s bowling on the eighth ball of the morning with England having added a single to their overnight total.
Alex Hales (five) was snagged by a brilliant diving one-handed catch from Chris Morris at slip to give Morne Morkel a deserved wicket after some fiery bowling.
Joe Root was caught in the slips by AB de Villiers off Morkel on 17 but television replays showed the bowler had his foot over the crease line, and England’s top-ranked batsman was reprieved.
Root added 12 more runs to his score before Morris bowled him with England 55 for three.
Nick Compton fell 10 minutes before lunch as he played straight to Faf du Plessis at short mid-wicket and was out after a tentative 15.
South Africa might have had another before lunch when James Taylor top edged off Morkel and Rabada made a superb one-handed diving catch, only for the ball to pop out of his hand as his elbow made contact with the ground.
South Africa will need to dismiss England cheaply in the second session and then chase down a low target with time running out if they are to level the series at 1-1.
England had looked well set to win a second successive test when they went on a run-scoring riot on the second day to shatter several records in amassing 629 for six declared.
But South Africa batted themselves back into the game over three days eventually declaring on 627-7 some 30 minutes before the end of Tuesday’s play.