De Villiers holds up England charge
Set 197 to win, England were nought for no wicket when bad light stopped play on the fourth day of the fourth Test.cricket Updated: Aug 11, 2008 00:16 IST
AB de Villiers threw down a challenge to South Africa's bowlers Sunday after a fighting innings of 97 gave his team an outside chance of victory in the fourth and final Test at the Oval.
England, set 197 to win, were nought for no wicket when bad light stopped play on the fourth day.
De Villiers said he wasn't disappointed at falling just short of a century but he was disappointed that he hadn't been able to stretch the lead to 250.
"I came up short by about 50 runs," de Villiers said. "The hundred wasn't really an issue."
He felt South Africa had a chance to complete a 3-0 series win. "The bowlers still haven't really been where we know they can be and it will be a good time tomorrow to hit their straps," he added.
"If we can pick up a couple of early ones I don't see why we can't push through."
England fast bowler Stuart Broad, who ended a 95-run eighth wicket stand between De Villiers and Paul Harris, said England remained strong favourites to pull off a win in Kevin Pietersen's first match as captain.
"It was a pretty good wicket to bat on today," said Broad. "The Oval's a quick-scoring ground and if we get our heads down and bat well 197 is something we should certainly knock off. It's been a good week for Kev so far and we've got the chance to make it a very good week for him."
Pietersen's tactics of letting De Villiers score singles backfired as Harris (34) batted competently. The pair defied the second new ball which was taken when the stand was worth only 23.
The resistance ended when Harris was caught at second slip by Andrew Flintoff off Broad, with De Villiers following in the next over when he charged down the pitch against left-arm spinner Monty Panesar and was bowled.
"I just tried to keep scoring because we had Andre Nel at the other end, who is a real tailender," De Villiers said of the way he got out.
De Villiers, who went to the wicket when his side were only 16 runs ahead with four wickets down, hit 12 boundaries in a 170-ball innings.
It was the fifth time De Villiers had been dismissed in the nineties in Test cricket. He has hit six centuries.
"Nineties like this I don't really mind," he said. "Pulling the team out of trouble is all I want to do. This 97 is as good as 150 for me today. I'm very happy to have given the boys a chance to pull through."
De Villiers continued a remarkable record of not having been dismissed without scoring in 77 innings since the start of his Test career - a world record.
England's task was made more difficult than seemed likely when fast bowler Steve Harmison struck two crucial blows early in the day with three more wickets falling before South Africa had a lead of 100.
Harmison dismissed both overnight batsmen, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, in a hostile eight-over spell in which he took two wickets for 12 runs.
Amla was out for 76 to the 19th ball of the day when he was forced on to the back foot by a lifting delivery from Harmison which he edged to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose. He added only five runs Sunday.
Kallis never looked settled against the pace and bounce of Harmison and the swing of James Anderson. He had an escape on nine when he drove Harmison low to wide mid-off where England captain Kevin Pietersen dropped the chance.
But he was out next ball without adding to his score when he edged Harmison low to Paul Collingwood at third slip.
For Kallis, long regarded as South Africa's most reliable batsman, it completed his least successful series since he became an established Test player.
In seven innings he scored 104 runs at an average of 14.85, with 64 of his runs coming in one innings in the third Test. He was the only member of the South African top six in the batting order not to score a century during the series.