Having arrived in Johannesburg with high hopes of repeating their 2004 victory on South African soil, they faded quickly and with little resistance to an aggressive bowling and batting attack from the number two team in the world.
England may reflect with frustration on some poor umpiring decisions which overshadowed the third day, but regardless were outplayed throughout, with Andrew Strauss’s dismissal in the first ball of the match setting the tone for the following three-and-a-half days.
Strauss refused to blame the review system for the result, acknowledging that England did not play well enough. But there will be some what-ifs in the minds of the tourists. What if Graeme Smith had been given out by third umpire Daryl Harper on 15, rather than going on to score 105? What if AB de Villiers had not been reprieved by Harper on 11 and prevented from building a partnership with Boucher which set the South Africans up for victory?
But having rode their luck, the hosts bowled excellently both on the end of the third day and from the off today, putting England under continual pressure in a way that they had not done in previous matches during this series.
England had little response. The rumoured plan was to be positive but a combination of consistently accurate deliveries from South Africa and some genuinely poor strokes from the Englishmen saw the wickets dropping off in quick succession.
After a brief spell of resilience in the morning, Kevin Pietersen flashed at one from Wayne Parnell outside off, providing keeper Mark Boucher with a comfortable catch and South Africa with the first wicket of the day with England on 84.
Bell was the next victim, fending off a short-pitched ball from Morne Morkel through to Kallis at slip, having been peppered by the 25-year-old South African and debutant Parnell at the other end.
Having claimed the wicket of Alastair Cook the day before, Morkel stormed through England’s middle order to finish with figures of 4-59. Matt Prior attempted to pull the second ball of his innings but succeeded in shanking the ball high into the air for Smith to collect and send England’s keeper trailing back to the dressing room with nought to his name and his tail between his legs.
Stuart Broad took his time getting to the crease but was quick to leave again, Morkel once again striking. Defending a back-of-a-length delivery which climbed on him, but which he arguably should have left, the English pace-man gloved the ball through to the hands of Boucher.
The on-field umpire gave him not out and Broad insisted that he had not hit it, but the South Africans referred the decision to the technology which showed the ball deviating off the glove coupled with a big noise. Harper, uncontroversially this time, overturned the decision to send Broad packing for just one run.
Graeme Swann scored a quick 20 off 17 balls before becoming Steyn’s second scalp of the innings, trying to defend a late-swinging delivery from the South African pace-man but succeeding in edging to de Villiers at slip.
Paul Collingwood was the saving grace for England, playing positively but sensibly for a well-deserved 71 runs before JP Duminy struck with the first ball of his second spell. The Durham man miss-timed a sweep out to Morkel at deep square leg in a disappointing end to a tenacious innings in which he racked up 12 fours and a six.
Ryan Sidebottom’s 15-run cameo was then ended once again by Duminy on the stroke of lunch as the Nottinghamshire bowler swung at and missed the final ball of the session to watch his stumps in disarray, matching England’s performance.
Strauss praised his team’s fortitude throughout the series but admitted that not enough of England’s batsmen performed sufficiently well.
Pietersen’s place in the team ought to be in question after he struggled for runs throughout the tour. Having returned to international cricket following an operation on his Achilles tendon during the summer, he scored just 53 runs in three one-day-internationals prior to the test series.
The warning light should then have been on as to KP’s form and despite amassing 81 before running himself out in his second innings at Centurion, he has failed to deliver with the bat since, adding just 56 to the England scoreboard over his remaining five stints at the crease.
His dismissals for nought and six in Cape Town perhaps should have prompted a rethink for the final test. The England team knew the wicket would be spicy, since South Africa had promised a result pitch, so dropping Pietersen in favour of Sidebottom, as well as retaining Graham Onions who has bowled well throughout the series without getting the wickets he deserved, may have been the better option.
Still, there has been much to celebrate in terms of English performances throughout this tour. Bell silenced critics after a shaky start in Centurion to put on some quality batting displays, including the 140 which helped set his team up for victory in Durban.
Cook similarly followed up a poor outing in the first test with an excellent 118 at Durban and 50s in both innings at Cape Town, while Collingwood has performed consistently well throughout the tour, following his unbeaten 105 in the ODI win at Centurion with an important 26 not out at the same ground in a fight to save the first test along with the tail-enders.
The Durham player followed his dogged Centurion innings with 91 at Durban and top scores in both innings in Johannesburg to finish with an average of 57.33.
Swann enjoyed unexpected success as the leading wicket-taker and proved a strong presence lower down the order, racking up almost as many runs as Pietersen with 171 to KP’s 177.
Bangladesh are up next for England, with this coming tour likely to generate even more debate as rumours circulate of captain Strauss sitting out the series and other players being rested.
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