South Africa 284 and 55 for 3 (Luus 4, Sekhukhune 1*, Wong 2-8) trail England 417 for 8 dec (Sciver 169, Davidson-Richards 107) by 78 runs
Issy Wong provided the spark on a gloomy evening to put England firmly in control heading into the final day of their Test with South Africa.
After hours of watching rain fall, 20-year-old debutant Wong removed dangerous opener Laura Wolvaardt for the second time in the match after also dismissing Lara Goodall to take two wickets in as many overs.
Nat Sciver has been at the heart of the action throughout this match, her unbeaten 169 allowing England to declare 133 runs ahead and she took two crucial catches as South Africa were reduced to 55 for 3 at the close on the third day, still 82 runs in arrears.
Play only resumed at 6.30pm local time after a second rain delay lasting nearly three hours and, with just 11 balls bowled, the rain returned, although play continued and the shower passed.
It was just as well for England when Wong had Goodall caught behind by Amy Jones amid an excellent spell, firing the ball in full down the leg side and catching a faint edge as it passed by.
Wong then claimed the prize wicket of Wolvaardt for just 16, edging to gully where Sciver took a sharp catch diving to her right.
The weather was surely a factor in the timing of England’s sporting declaration with about half an hour left in the morning session. And while it left Sciver 20 runs shy of Betty Snowball’s record for the highest Test score by an England Women’s player, set in 1935, the fact that more rain is forecast for the final day and that England were keen to force a result, team goals took precedence over personal milestones.
Sciver was in the action again when England made an early breakthrough in South Africa’s second innings, Kate Cross claiming her fifth wicket for the match when she invited Andrie Steyn to drive at a ball pitched up just outside off stump and got an edge to fly to gully, where Sciver took a sound, low catch.
England then thought Cross had Goodall out lbw but their attempts to overturn umpire Anna Harris’ not-out decision failed when the DRS confirmed that Goodall had put bat on ball. Moments later rain arrived and the players sprinted from the field.
Only another eight overs were bowled when play resumed with South Africa closing the gap to 106 before another heavy shower brought about an early tea.
Earlier, Sciver, 119 not out overnight, surpassed Marizanne Kapp’s 150 in South Africa’s first innings. Having resumed with a 44-run advantage, Sciver and Sophie Ecclestone added another 65 runs in the first hour of the day, both finding the boundary with relative ease as they looked to accelerate.
Sciver had shared a 207-run partnership for the sixth wicket with old schoolmate Alice Davidson-Richards, who fell on the final ball of the second day with a century on Test debut to her name.
Anneke Bosch dropped a return catch off Ecclestone, on 18 at the time, in her second over of the day, the firmly struck chance slipping through her hands during her follow-through. Then Sciver immediately picked off consecutive boundaries, pulled through square leg and cracked over midwicket. She brought up her 150 a short time later pushing Nonkululeko Mlaba to long on for a single.
Ecclestone fell for a handy 35 when walking across her stumps trying to clip Mlaba towards fine leg she was struck on the front pad in line with leg stump.
Cross’ dismissal four balls later prompted England’s declaration after Sciver hit another Mlaba delivery towards midwicket where Nadine de Klerk gathered and threw to the non-striker’s end. Cross had turned back but failed to ground her bat.
Sciver had admitted the previous evening that the desire to put on a show in the context of wider discussions about the future of women’s Tests, had been raised in the England camp before the match.
“We spoke about that before we started the game,” she said. “And yeah, there were comments that didn’t support women’s Test matches, which is not something that we agree with so we are playing I guess in the limelight after that comment a little bit. So yeah, we want to push for a result.
“For me, I didn’t take it out onto the pitch. We spoke about it a little bit before the game but when I’m out there, we’re playing cricket, we’re playing for each other, we’re playing for our team.”
With only seven wickets needed, the hosts’ prospects of that looked brighter, provided the weather doesn’t play too big a factor. Sune Luus was unbeaten on 4 at the close alongside nightwatcher Tumi Sekhukhune on 1.