Proteas must go back to basics to land Centurion win

Anrich Nortje (Gallo)
Anrich Nortje (Gallo)

Centurion - When they were bowled out for 272 in their second innings on Saturday, the Proteas had seemingly put themselves out of touching distance in the first Test against England at SuperSport Park. 

SCORECARD | Proteas v England, 1st Test

England, having been rolled for 181 in their first innings, needed a highly improbable 376 to win the Test in what would be their highest ever successful run chase in the five-day format. 

Now, at the end of Day 3, they have given themselves a "fighting chance", according to batting coach Graham Thorpe.

Rory Burns' fearless 77* saw the visitors reach 121/1 at stumps, needing another 255 runs for victory with two days remaining. 

South Africa will still enter Day 4 as overwhelming favourites, but the events of Kingsmead back in February where Sri Lankan duo Kusal Perera and Vishwa Fernando put on 78 for the 10th wicket to chase down an unlikely 304 for victory should serve as a stern reminder that this is not over yet.

"No ... not at all," was speedster Anrich Nortje's response when asked if the Proteas had brought that day up at all. 

Nortje, who batted with courage and application on his way to a valuable 40 on Saturday having come in at No 6 as the night-watchman on Friday, believes that the South Africans need to simply start patient with the ball and build pressure on the English top order in their efforts to win the match on Sunday. 

"It's about pressure and sticking to what we do best and trying to keep the run rate down," he said.

"From there we can try and take wickets ... it's nothing special. It's just about doing the basics."

On his batting performance, Nortje said that the arrival of Proteas legend Jacques Kallis as the side's batting consultant had been a boost to everyone in the side. 

"I tried to just focus on every over to stay in there until lunch. It was just about sticking in there," he said.

"I enjoyed being out there with the bat and actually doing the job and seeing out the night."

Nortje is playing in just his third Test and was part of the squad that was thrashed 3-0 in India in September. He took just one wicket in that series having travelled for 179 runs. That, combined with the fact that he missed out on the 2019 World Cup through injury, made 2019 a testing year for the 26-year-old. 

Two wickets in the first innings at Centurion, though, have helped settle him down on the Test stage. 

"I've done a lot of hard work trying to improve the action and trying to be stronger and in better positions at the crease," he said.

"I feel like my mind is clear when I'm bowling now and I'm just focused on what I need to do. I'm feeling really good and I'm just trying to improve as much as I can."

Nortje also paid tribute to Vernon Philander, who has announced that he will be retiring from international cricket at the end of the series. 

"He is a quality guy and we will definitely miss him," he said. 

Play on Sunday starts at 10:00.

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