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Bairstow is hero and then villain as hosts struggle.

STEVEN Finn took three wickets to keep England on course for victory in the first Test, but Jonny Bairstow's missed stumping of AB De Villiers gave South Africa faint hope in Durban.

Finn, a late addition to the touring squad after a foot injury, took out Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla and Faf Du Plessis as the Proteas closed the fourth day on 136-4, 280 short of a difficult winning mark.

They will have little serious interest in hunting CRICKET down a record 416, but the presence of De Villiers at least gives them a chance of surviving three sessions for the draw.

That is where Bairstow comes in.

The Yorkshireman had top-scored with 79 in England's 326 all out, but not for the first time his glovework will be back under the microscope.

Having dropped Amla earlier in the game, Bairstow got nowhere near to taking the ball cleanly when De Villiers, on 33, found himself stranded off the bowling of Moeen Ali.

Finn restored some of the feel-good feeling by removing Du Plessis late on, but Bairstow will not be content until De Villiers (37no) is back in the pavilion on day five.

Those expecting either the clatter of wickets or the thud of defence were confounded at the start of South Africa's innings.

After 10 overs, shared between five different bowlers, openers Stiaan van Zyl and Elgar had already wiped 50 off the target.

But that was as good as got for the home fans, Van Zyl losing his off stump just five balls later.

Three balls later Moeen drew a thick edge from Elgar, but Stokes could not lay a hand on an extremely tough chance.

South Africa's counterattack stalled after the tea break, with Finn making two major breakthroughs in his second spell.

Home skipper Amla (12) and Elgar (40) both played half-heartedly at balls wide enough to leave and were comfortably held by Bairstow and Joe Root respectively.

Amla's lean streak has now spanned the entirety of 2015, during which he has just one half-century and an average of 22.81.

That left one of South Africa's two prize scalps left: De Villiers.

He and Du Plessis combined to see off 17 overs without incident, for the addition of 41 runs, before drama struck.

De Villiers raced down the track and must have feared the worst when the ball bit sharply.

But Bairstow was deceived too and did not come close to taking a clean catch, much less completing the stumping.

He punched the ground in dismay as his teammates looked on pensively, but smiles returned to their faces when a Finn lifter took Du Plessis' edge and was snaffled by Cook.

CAPTION(S):

England 's Jonny Bairstow powers away a shot watched by South Africa's wicketkeeper AB de Villiers during day four of the first Test at Kingmead's Sahara Stadium | JULIAN FINNEY

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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Dec 30, 2015
Words:478
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