England accept they are a “long shot” to reel in another record chase against South Africa but batting coach Graham Thorpe believes their recent history of hunting down lost causes gives reason for optimism.
South Africa left England chasing a colossal 376 to win the Boxing Day Test at Centurion, meaning they would need to go even better than their classic Ashes win at Headingley, where Ben Stokes’ brilliant century propelled them to an English record pursuit of 359.
SuperSport Park is not renowned as a home of great batting feats and England’s task is further complicated by the illness which continues to blight their tour. Already 10 players and four support staff have been affected by a contagious bug and Friday saw Joe Root and Jos Buttler laid low by it.
In Leeds, England stared down incredible odds to beat Australia but at least they had 11 fully fit men for the job.
And yet there is hope, not just in happy memories but in the form of Rory Burns, whose unbeaten 77 guided his team to a solid 121 for one at stumps.
“We’ll wake up tomorrow and we’ll have a chance in this Test match. I would say it’s a long shot, we’ll have to play very well, but we’ve given ourselves a fighting chance,” said Thorpe.
“There’s a lot of runs to get but there is belief in our dressing room and maybe that’s because of what the players achieved in the summer. We’ll keep fighting all the way in this team and if we have a good first session, take the Test match deep, who knows?
“South Africa will think if they get a couple of early wickets the game is theirs. We will come with the right attitude again and hopefully do something really special again.”
Root and Buttler’s first order of business is merely to rally strongly enough overnight to take the field in something approaching competitive condition. The severity of symptoms has differed between individuals and England will be crossing their fingers the duo are in shape to contribute.
“Hopefully we can all get out of bed,” said Thorpe, who was one of the early patients.
“They will both benefit from a night’s sleep again and that’s what is even more important about the way we played today. If we were three or four it probably would have been a struggle for them.
“It’s been tricky but you have to cope with it. It’s been an interesting build-up for us and the Test match itself has been ups and downs. All we’ve really tried to do is stay level in the dressing room.”
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