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Jonathan Agnew column

Third Test, Cape Town: South Africa v England
Venue: Newlands Dates: 3-7 January Start time: 0830 GMT
Coverage: Listen to Test Match Special on BBC Radio Four Longwave, Radio 5 live sports extra, the Red Button and BBC Sport website; text commentary online and on mobile phones. Also live on Sky Sports

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

Despite a fighting opening stand of 101 between Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, South Africa are strongly placed to level the series on the final day in Cape Town.

England's Jonathan Trott plays a defensive shot during the final session in Cape Town
There is little to fear from the South African attack except from the pressure of the situation

Both openers fell within three overs of each other and that meant that Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were subjected to a pressurised 45 minutes before the close.

South Africa's position was then considerably strengthened when Dale Steyn had Kevin Pietersen lbw for six as he played across the line.

Strauss and Cook would have had nothing on their minds apart from seeing off the new ball and, with one or two anxious moments along the way, this they managed to do.

Twenty overs into the innings, the pitch looked benign and trustworthy, allowing Strauss to drive Steyn through the covers for three consecutive fours and England were on their way to the extent that people were even wondering about the possibility of a famous victory.

Despite setting a target of 466, Graeme Smith must have reckoned on knocking at least one of the openers over in the early salvos, and the South Africa captain started to look increasingly agitated.

Smith will have to stay patient on the final day and hope for errors from the batsmen - like the one that accounted for Cook on 55 when he top edged a pull shot off Friedel de Wet. Strauss will also be disappointed by the manner of his exit for 45 as a rather lazy defensive shot against Paul Harris resulted in a catch at short leg.

Remember Randall

England simply have to keep going, with the aim of every batsmen to sell his wicket dearly. They really should not be entertaining thoughts about victory unless they reach tea with wickets in hand.

History tells us that the best they can hope for is a draw - but there is little to fear from the South African attack except from the pressure of the situation.

The ICC, meanwhile, has done its best to diffuse a ball-tampering rumpus that has threatened to damage the relations between the two teams. Stuart Broad and James Anderson have both been told that no action will be taken after Broad stopped the ball with the studs of his boot (something he often attempts to do) and Anderson was shown on television footage apparently scratching the surface of the ball with his fingernail.

Anderson seems especially fortunate to me to get off without even a warning - I can't think what else he could have been doing - while Broad needs to be told he is better off using his hands to stop the ball, rather than risk seriously bruising his ankle or foot.

Players will always look for new ways to fiddle with the ball, and it is possible that this is the latest method. If so, the authorities will now be well aware of it.

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see also
England face Test survival battle
06 Jan 10 |  England
South Africa v England photos
06 Jan 10 |  England
England wrap up emphatic Test win
30 Dec 09 |  England
Michael Vaughan Q&A
31 Dec 09 |  Cricket
South Africa v England photos
29 Dec 09 |  England
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket
England in South Africa 2009-10
17 Jan 10 |  England

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