Zak Crawley ended a disappointing summer with a flourish as England moved to the brink of a Test series victory over South Africa at the Oval on Sunday.
After 16 innings without a half-century, Crawley’s 57 not out means what might have been a potentially tricky fourth-innings target of 130 in a low-scoring third Test should be safely negotiated on Monday.
England reached 97 without loss – they need just 33 more runs for a 2-1 series win – before bad light brought an early finish 23 minutes before the scheduled close, prompting some boos in the crowd.
After South Africa collapsed from 83 for one to 169 all out, with three wickets apiece for Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, Alex Lees was dropped from the first ball of England’s chase by Marco Jansen.
While Lees grew in fluency and ended the day on 32 not out, the out-of-form Crawley helped get England off to a flyer, riding the bounce in Kagiso Rabada’s second over, dispatching him for back-to-back fours.
He needed just 36 balls to reach his fifty and there was a sense he could get England over the line on Sunday night – and bring about effectively a two-day Test after Thursday’s washout and Friday’s play being called off in memory of the Queen – but England, to their frustration, were kept waiting.
"It's been a great day. We bowled really well," said England pace bowler James Anderson. "Maybe we didn't get our rewards in the first session but they grafted really hard to get through a tricky period. But we stuck at it really well and kept picking up wickets to get us in a great position.
"And then Alex and Zak came out and played exactly how the captain and coach want them to, and got us to a great position by the end of the day."
As for the bad light decision, Anderson added: "The rate we were scoring at, we may have only needed 5-6 overs, they were seeing the ball well and with a good crowd in tonight it would've been good to win it tonight.
"But I can understand why it had to happen, the umpires take that reading on the first day and it sets a precedent for the rest of the game and for example, if it rained all day tomorrow, it would be unfair on South Africa if we ignored that and carried on to get it done tonight.
"It's frustrating but it's the rules. Sometimes though, you think common sense would prevail."