CAPE TOWN, January 8- Number 11 batsman Graham Onions batted out the last over for the second time in the series as England escaped with a draw on the fifth day of the third Test against South Africa at Newlands on Thursday.
South African captain Graeme Smith bemoaned his side’s inability to finish off the opposition, which means England go into the fourth and final Test in Johannesburg next Thursday with an unbeatable 1-0 lead despite South Africa twice getting within one wicket of victory.
"It’s hugely frustrating not being able to land the knockout blow," said Smith.
"We arrived in this Test match under a lot of pressure with a lot of questions being asked. We were put in to bat on a wicket that was doing a bit and the guys showed a lot of character. We played a lot of positive cricket."
England finished on 296 for nine after four wickets fell in the last hour.
"Everyone gave 100 percent in that last 15 overs," said Smith.
England captain Andrew Strauss hailed Onions as ‘a legend’ but said the finish should not have been so close after an ‘unbelievable partnership’ between Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, who batted together for almost four hours.
Strauss said England would not be satisfied with a share of the series.
"It’s nice to know they can’t win it but we came here to win the series," said the South African-born Strauss.
"We’ll be pretty unhappy when we step on that plane if we let them back in. But we’ve got to be better than we were in this game."
A dramatic finish seemed unlikely after Collingwood and Bell saw off the second new ball and batted comfortably into the last hour.
But Collingwood was caught at slip off the part-time off-spinner JP Duminy with 13.3 overs remaining and as happened in the first Test at Centurion England found themselves in desperate trouble.
In Duminy’s next over Matt Prior prodded a catch to AB de Villiers at short leg.
With up to seven fielders clustered around the bat, Stuart Broad survived without scoring a run for 22 balls before a ball from left-arm spinner Paul Harris bounced and popped off his glove for De Villiers to make another catch at short leg.
Fast bowler Morne Morkel was brought back into the South African attack and with his first ball had Bell caught at first slip by Graeme Smith after a 286-minute vigil in which he scored 78.
There were 17 balls left but Onions and Graeme Swann survived against Dale Steyn and Morkel, with Onions playing out a challenging last over from Morkel with impressive calm.
South African hopes were high when they took the second new ball one over after lunch, needing five wickets to square the series.
But Collingwood survived a blistering spell of fast bowling from Dale Steyn, while the rest of the South African bowling attack made a minimal impression on a pitch which played easily under a warm sun.
"We had it well set up with five down and that new ball coming," said Smith.
"We bowled well with it. The first ten overs with that new ball was key. Collingwood and Bell stuck to their game plans and really showed a lot of strength of character.
"I really can’t complain about the performance of our bowlers with the second new ball. We asked a lot of questions. I think Paul played 10 out of 18 balls at one stage."
Strauss praised the two batsmen.
"Colly used his experience again and Ian Bell has wanted to play an innings like that for a long time and he did it exceptionally well."
Steyn gave South Africa an important breakthrough 36 minutes before lunch when he bowled Jonathan Trott with a superb delivery which swung in late.
But Steyn and Morne Morkel could not separate England’s last two specialist batsmen when they took the new ball.
South Africa were hampered by a back injury to Friedel de Wet – brought in for the dropped Makhaya Ntini – who bowled only four overs during the day.