I said yesterday the match would be drawn and so it was. But that would be too easy and what should have been the least interesting day of the match (and for the first session made it look absolutely certain to be) ended up the most exciting. England went out in the morning looking to instigate a quick collapse. They had a decent go, the bowling was good, but South Africa really had the rub of the green with possible catches evading fielders and the ball beating the bat entirely. They also came off for rain a couple of times and it was not until a couple of overs before a late lunch that England finally shifted South Africa’s makeshift opening partnership. Incredibly, it was Kevin Pietersen to Jacques Rudolph again. Pietersen bowled four balls to Rudolph in the match and dismissed him twice.
A few days ago, I said that I thought England had made the right call by bowling four seamers as Swann had not bowled well at Headingley and there was not any turn on the first four days. Today, however, there was turn and Pietersen found it. Whilst I still do see the logic of the decision, it is now clear that it was indeed the wrong one. Pietersen got good turn, good bounce and three wickets in the innings. The only caveat to those wickets was that one of them, the dismissal of Smith, was very questionable and Amla’s dismissal was nothing whatsoever to do with spin as he tamely hit a full toss straight to cover. The Smith dismissal was an interesting one as he was given out caught at short leg and discussed it with his partner before deciding to review it. The replay showed that he had hit his boot, but the actual view of where the ball either did or did not hit the bat was obscured by James Taylor. If one was to make a decision based off that alone one would say not out, but there was certainly not enough evidence to overturn the umpire’s call of out and so it stayed. To his credit, Smith took the decision with good grace.
That dismissal cost South Africa in an odd way later though as it meant that South Africa were out of reviews. This was very unlucky for South Africa as I have seen teams get the review back in similar situations in the past and I am not entirely sure why South Africa did not. When Broad then trapped AB de Villiers lbw, South Africa could not review and the replay showed that the ball was sliding down leg. That said, it looked plumb live and there is actually every chance it would not have been reviewed. Unfortunately we won’t ever know, but regardless of whether or not it would have been reviewed it was a poor decision by the umpire which South Africa did not have the opportunity to correct.
This was the start of a fearsome spell by Stuart Broad that very much livened up the match. He had previously started to bowl too short again, but here he remembered to pitch the ball up and try to hit the stumps and he was rewarded. De Villiers may have got a poor decision, but he was still entirely beaten by the delivery and ended up playing all around a fairly straight one. JP Duminy was then trapped lbw (correctly this time) to a very similarly full and straight delivery that he played poorly. A few overs later, Vernon Philander departed to one that had nipped back and hit him in front of off. This is what Broad does when he is bowling at his best and it is so important for England that he remembers to do so. Only once he establishes that danger for the batsmen can he use the short ball to any effect, as he subsequently did to get rid of Kallis. Broad finished with an excellent and well deserved five-fer.
Broad’s heroics led to the best part of the day and possibly the match: Smith and Strauss, two of the most defensive captains in world cricket, had a mini contest to see which one could grab some sort of initiative and mental edge over the other heading into the Lord’s Test. Smith declared with nine down in a purely symbolic gesture (Tahir is very much a number eleven) but the gesture was clear. In response, Strauss juggled the England batting order and sent Kevin Pietersen out to open the run chase. Despite this, however, neither side still really went all out for it. South Africa had a reasonably attacking field, but only about the standard for the start of an innings and England, despite being up with or close to the required rate for a long period still sent Trott in at number four. Trott is a good ODI batsman, and actually was scoring at over a run a ball for the start of his innings, but it was still more of a defensive move than anything else. England’s entire approach actually seemed quite muddled. Prior, a very attacking option, came in after Trott and it was only when he was finally out that England stopped going for it. Taylor and Broad never got to bat at all though. As nice as it was to see England try to win the match, the execution was poor and one was left with the impression that England could have come a lot closer.
In a way, England have already lost the series. Whilst they can still get out with a draw, their excellent home series winning streak (seven consecutive home series won, dating back to the last time South Africa toured) is over and all they can do is try to make it a less impressive unbeaten streak. They will also still have not managed to beat South Africa and put to rest the discussion of which side is better. They have only themselves to blame for this; not entirely because of the actual results (though obviously that as well) but because the series is only three Tests. This is always a possibility of a three Test series; the ECB could have and should have scheduled another Test and now it will cost them.