South Africa are routed in Johannesburg as England win by 191 runs, finishing the series with an emphatic 3-1 win.
Image Credits: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
England wrapped up a wonderful series win in South Africa with a resounding win at The Wanderers, Johannesburg. With the series at 2-1 with one test to play, England only needed to draw the final test to be sure of a second consecutive series win in South Africa.
Only a mere month ago, the tour looked to be turning into something of a farce. A virus had struck down most of the squad while Ben Stokes’ father had been admitted to hospital. England subsequently lost the first test, characterised by a batting collapse that we had come to expect from this England side all too often. However, they rallied. Winning the next three tests in convincing style, often thanks to heroics from Stokes, but also a group of young players that Chris Silverwood and Joe Root had blooded so well. The likes of Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Dom Bess have all come in and shone at a point, or at various points. That, in and amongst the result, should be what pleases England greatly. With much of this current crop 25 or under, the likes of the aforementioned players plus Jofra Archer to come back in, test cricket in England is looking in much better hands than it did some mere three months ago.
Truth be told, South Africa are not a serious test team. Their most talented player, AB De Villiers, retired from test cricket to become a twenty20 ‘gun for hire’, while their own board have come out strongly in favour of four day tests.
Who could blame them, looking at the attendance across the four days at The Wanderers. While the ECB continue to sell out test venues every summer, the situation across the rest of the cricketing globe is very different. The game is in grave danger elsewhere and something has to be done.
If their side continue playing how they did in South Africa, however, the ECB will seemingly continue to be immune from such problems. From the first day of the fourth test England were on top. When it’s not going for you in cricket, it can often seem a lonely place and it seems South Africa captain Faf Du Plessis is in that quandary at the moment. Losing his seventh toss in a row, and with questions hanging over England’s frontline seam attack, Root sent his team into bat. Why would he choose otherwise? England had twisted the knife into this sorry South African team for the last two tests, why not twist it some more, Root asked of his team. Crawley and Sibley delivered.
Piling on England’s first opening partnership century stand in a first innings of a test match since 2016. South Africa toiled on what has always been a very bowler-friendly wicket, but to no avail.
However, when the breakthrough did come, they did manage to claw their way through England’s middle order. From 107-0 to 157-4. We have seen this film before. But of course it was actually the one where England’s no. 4 and 6 rallied to avert the ship from the storm. Pietersen and Bell, is that you? Root and Pope put on a century stand before both of them and Curran fell in quick succession. At this point, South Africa were in a real chance of salvaging something from the series.
However, rather ironically on this tour that will surely be labelled that of the young guns, it was the old bodies that took England to that respectable 400 total. Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Stuart Broad piled on 110 for the last two wickets, and England once again had the series win in their sights.
If it was not assured at the end of England’s first innings, it certainly was after South Africa’s. Some really dreadful footwork, shot-selection and just all round batting took them to a meagre total of 183. Wood, another huge plus point for England this winter, a man they should simply wrap in cotton wool and keep in the cryotherapy chamber until the Ashes down-under in 2021-22, picked up a wonderful 5fer. A welcome prize for all his hard-work over the summer and autumn months.
Unlike in Port Elizabeth, England did not choose to enforce the follow-on. And at points, this looked like something of an odd decision. With time to bat in the game, England seemingly reverted to the Trevor Bayliss style of test cricket; trying to pile on runs quickly. It saw to the quick loss of wickets, with only Root consistently playing a sensible array of shots.
So, with South Africa requiring some 466 runs – the highest ever fourth innings chase at The Wanderers: 320 – it was seemingly 3-1 to England, job done.
But South Africa, for the first time in almost three weeks, chose to make England work for their win. Their top order rallied, with van der Dussen batting superbly for his 98, two runs shy of a maiden test ton. But in truth, this often happens when a team is set a monster target. Think back to the Oval in 2009, Australia needed 450-odd, and they got to 200 pretty much all in tact. England needed to be patient, and they were. With the batting collapses that we have come to expect all too frequently from England over the past five years, this team should know better than anyone else that if you keep plugging away the wickets will tumble. Subsequently, they did. And Joe Root has answered those nagging captaincy questions, at least until March.