TELFORD VICE, Wanderers
THE Wanderers takes no prisoners. Accordingly, SA were put out of their misery long before Sunday’s dawn when England won the third test by seven wickets with two days to spare on Saturday.
Death and sport don’t belong in the same sentence, but it was difficult to avoid comparisons with a summary execution. You could smell blood in the Bullring.
When SA dismissed the visitors for 323 before lunch with Kagiso Rabada and his feline fury claiming 5/78 – his first five-wicket haul in tests – they would have thought themselves well in the game. They had conceded a few too many runs, but England had nudged just 20 ahead on the first innings.
An electric contest seemed in the offing. Instead, a shock hit SA’s most lustily supportive crowd, 19 338 of them, harder than any bolt of lightning could.
Less than four hours after Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl walked out to open the second innings, SA were frogmarched back to the dressingroom for 83.
They trudged in step with the funereal drumbeat of Stuart Broad’s 10-over spell with the new ball in which he took 5/14 in the space of 31 deliveries.
Broad bowled with pace and verve, jagged the ball off the seam sharply and at will, and finished with 6/17.
England, left a target of 74, were singing in the showers after 90 minutes.
With that, not only the match, but also the series and SA’s time as the No. 1 test team were over.
Saturday’s loss marks the first time in 33 rubbers stretching back to Australia’s twin triumphs in 2005-06 that SA have lost back-to-back test series.
Their 3-0 loss in India was not an aberration, however much the groundsmen cheated. Likewise, the 241-drubbing England handed them in the first test at Kingsmead was no fluke.
If anything, the draw at Newlands is the exception to the truth that South Africans must now countenance: their once fine team is tired, worn out, beat, disillusioned, demoralised, shellshocked, broken, and in no way, shape or form ready to be able to give of anything anywhere near their best.
“I almost feel like all hope is gone,” AB de Villiers said. “We got a good hiding from the opposition – there’s no other way to put it.
“We’re still up there in the rankings but that means absolutely nothing.”
For Alastair Cook, coach Trevor Bayliss’ tough love was important: “‘Trev’ gave us a kick up the arse at lunch – here’s the chance to take the series.”
It had all started so well for SA when Rabada had overnight centurion Root caught behind for 110 with the day’s 14th ball.
England were 279/7 after Dane Vilas found the co-ordination to change direction and dive full length in time to catch the inside edge Moeen Ali offered off Chris Morris.
But, even with Rabada threatening dismissal with almost every delivery and Morne Morkel hitting top gear, those gains were steadily wiped out by Jonny Bairstow, who would bat through four partnerships that realised 121 runs.
And then came Broad.
His raid started when Elgar edged an away swinger to wicketkeeper Bairstow to mark the only time in the 11 innings in which Elgar has opened with Van Zyl that the latter wasn’t first to go.
Elgar’s 15 was SA’s top score until Rabada, still defiant, went one run better.
Faf du Plessis, having stood firm for 104 minutes for his 14, was last out when he clipped Broad onto his pads – and the bowler brilliantly untangled himself from his follow-through to take a tumbling catch one-handed.
The crowd sang on regardless and all through England’s canter to victory, but it was the day the music died.