Moeen Ali is banking on one last effort from England’s seamers to drag them back into contention in the fourth Test against South Africa.
The Proteas ended day three in Centurion firmly in command, bowling the tourists out for 342, as Kagiso Rabada took a career-best seven wickets, and closing with a lead of 175.
With just one second-innings wicket down and plenty of batting left in the pavilion, the equation already appears ominous.
On a wearing pitch that first started to show signs of uneven bounce on the second evening, South Africa boast a promising advantage they should not squander.
Moeen’s spin is likely to be part of the equation, but he knows the heavy lifting will have to be done by James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes if England are to have any chance of ending a triumphant tour unbeaten.
It would take something akin to Broad’s remarkable 6-17 in Johannesburg to shift the momentum of this match, yet Moeen remains hopeful.
“We’re disappointed at the moment, but we know there are two important days coming up and we have to be ready,” he said.
“We are still going to be positive and try to get something out of this game.
“We’re a side that have got bowlers who can win us a game, as we saw last week at the Wanderers. Hopefully, we can do that again.
“We have to attack them when they come into bat and try bowl them out as quickly as we can.
“We’ve got two of the best bowlers I’ve ever played with. We saw at the Wanderers what Broady can do and we obviously know what Jimmy can do, and hopefully they do it again (today).”
Moeen had the chance to assess the pitch from both perspectives, making 61 with the bat as well as sending down two overs before stumps.
And he admitted it had started to misbehave.
“There’s a lot of cracks in it,” he said.
“For someone like Ben Stokes, that’s probably not going to play on his mind too much, he’ll just play how he plays, but for some batters it might.
“You just have to deal with it and do your best. Obviously it’s going to be tough. There’s a bit of up and down movement and a bit of spin as well.
“But that’s actually good for us going into the first session looking to get the wickets we need.”
Rabada’s was the standout performance of the day, returning 7-112 to make up for the continued absence of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander in style.
He is already a crowd favourite and the second highest wicket-taker in the series with 16.
But at just 20 years old, and playing only his sixth Test, Rabada was content to play down his achievement.
“I don’t think I’ve arrived yet, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
“People keep telling me Test cricket is the real deal and I think I’ve learned that.
“I didn’t think I bowled that well, I was okay in spells, but Morne (Morkel) and Abbo (Kyle Abbott) bowled so well. They just kept coming, if they’d got seven maybe they would have deserved it more than I did.”
With Abbott nursing a sore hamstring Rabada may have plenty more work in front of him to secure a first Test win, but was also encouraged by the pitch.
“I’m not sure about Abbo, if he’s going to be bowling, if he doesn’t we have to bowl more overs,” he added.
“We are in a good position, we’ve got a strong lead and the wicket is deteriorating. It’s not going to be easy to bat last on this wicket so we need to keep building on this lead and take it deep.”
Much of the damage to England’s hopes came in the morning session, with the tourists’ losing four wickets for 73 runs – including 3-3 in a compelling burst from Rabada.
They had resumed on 138-2, with captain Alastair Cook adding just nine runs in the first hour before edging a fine Morne Morkel delivery.
Yorkshire’s Joe Root had added 45 runs to his overnight 31 at a good rate.
But he was the first of three to perish when Rabada returned for another burst before the interval, edging behind before James Taylor was next, mis-timing a pull to Quinton de Kock.
That left Root’s Yorkshire colleague Jonny Bairstow to see off the remainder of the over to reach lunch, but Rabada had him inside three balls, shading one back in off the seam and flicking a glove. Ben Stokes rallied with a promising 33 and Chris Woakes added 26, but it was Moeen who ensured England stayed in the race with a fine knock of 61.
Chris Waters’s view: Page 7.