4 August 2008
It was a case of mission accomplished on Saturday at Edgbaston when South Africa claimed victory by five wickets in the third test over England to secure an unbeatable 2-0 lead in the four-match series.
Scenes of unrestrained joy played out among the South African team after SA skipper Graeme Smith struck the winning boundary. The opening batsman had played a vital knock – one that he agreed could be his best yet – in making an unbeaten 154 to guide the Proteas to an impressive victory.
The South African victory was a triumph for the depth of the squad. A positive and focused performance also helped Mickey Arthur’s charges tighten their grip on second place in the world rankings.
Since SA’s readmission to international cricket they have, on a number of occasions, taken a series lead in England only to relinquish it. This time around they secured the win before the final test and it was the all-round contribution of the team stood out.
On the batting front, incredibly, while South Africa’s top batsman, Jacques Kallis, has failed to score a century in the series, the rest of the batsmen have performed superbly, with Smith, Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince, and AB de Villiers all making hundreds.
The bowlers, too, have shared the wicket-taking load around. With Dale Steyn out of the third test with a broken left hand, Andre Nel picked up the slack by starting England’s slide in the home side’s first innings.
Through three matches of the series, Morne Morkel leads the way with 15 wickets, but Steyn claimed eight victims in his two games. Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis have seven each, and Paul Harris four. The performance of Kallis with the ball, especially, has been a welcome surprise.
The fielding has been, for the most part, excellent with some superb catching aiding the effort of the bowlers.
In the past, much has been made of South Africa’s ability to challenge the long-time world number one Australia, but that challenge has relied on a select few players; now, it seems, the Proteas have the ability to produce a decisive performance from any number of players and that augurs well for the future.
Further cause for optimism is that South Africa’s success against England has been achieved without the side’s best batsman and bowler playing the decisive roles; consider that they won the third test without Steyn to lead the bowling attack. Also consider that despite SA’s superiority they have outplayed England without Kallis dominating the English bowlers.
One versus two
Smith and company will have the opportunity to test their ability against the best in December when the Proteas tour Australia. It will be a showdown of the two highest ranked teams in world cricket.
The reasons why South Africa could challenge Australia Down Under have been on show during the past year, which has been among the most successful in the history of South African cricket.
Since the first Twenty20 World Championships, the Proteas have beaten New Zealand, the West Indies, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and England. The victories over Pakistan, Bangladesh and England were all achieved away from home. In addition, SA also shared a series against India in India after the Indians leveled the series in the final test on a pitch that drew the ire of the International Cricket Council.
Recipe for success
At Edgbaston, in the third test, the recipe for those successes was on show as South Africa delivered a mature, composed and confident performance.
As in most test matches, there were crucial sessions that could have tilted the contest in favour of either of the teams and South Africa played them better to win the game. In fact, it is an aspect that the Proteas have dominated throughout the series since they staged a stunning fightback in the first test.
After Michael Vaughan won the toss and elected to bat, the home side struggled to make much of an impression on what appeared to be a decent batting wicket. They managed just 231 all out, with Alastair Cook making 76 and Ian Bell 50. Only three other players made it into double figures, however, as England were all out on the first day.
Nel made early inroads by dismissing Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan. He went on to capture 3 for 47 after also claiming the wicket of Cook, while Jacques Kallis led the way with a haul of 3 for 31, seeing off Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, and Tim Ambrose.
By stumps, South Africa had reached 38 for 1, with Smith out for seven, caught by Strauss off the bowling of Flintoff.
With so much progress made in the state of the match, it was clear that a result would be delivered in Birmingham.
Batting with circumspection, the Proteas ended day two on 256 for 6. McKenzie was out for 72, while Kallis made 64 before Flintoff bowled him after a magnificent duel between the two men. The advantage was slightly in South Africa’s favour.
First innings lead
On day three, South Africa were bowled out for 314, with Mark Boucher hitting 40 and Ashwell Prince 39. That gave Smith and company a lead of 83 over England.
Flintoff bowled well to pick up 4 for 89. His Yorkers also troubled some of the South African batsman, who lost the ball in flight and failed to play a shot. James Anderson also performed well, claiming 3 for 72.
By stumps, England had done a good job of batting themselves back into the match, reaching 297 for 6, with Collingwood unbeaten on a superb 101. Kevin Pietersen had done his bit by making 94 before he fell to Paul Harris.
Coach Mickey Arthur admitted to being disappointed with his bowlers. They had, at one stage, reduced England to 104 for 4 but, said Arthur, they failed to show patience and build pressure, which let the home side off the hook.
On day four, England took their total to 363, with Collingwood the last man out for a classy 135. Together with Ryan Sidebottom, he added a useful 65 for eighth wicket.
Morne Morkel captured 4 for 97, while Makhaya Ntini and Paul Harris took two wickets apiece.
England’s resolute and stubborn second innings batting effort left South Africa requiring 281 runs for victory. Worryingly, the highest successful run chase in the history of tests at Edgbaston was just 208 runs.
The Proteas needed a special performance to win the test and secure the series victory and they got it from their captain, Graeme Smith, who played with measured assurance and telling effectiveness to guide his team to victory.
The pitch was anything but easy. It offered good bounce and movement for the fast bowlers, while spinner Monty Panesar was able to extract bounce and turn from it.
Both Neil McKenzie and Jacques Kallis fell LBW to Yorkers from Flintoff that they didn’t see, while Hashim Amla was harshly given out LBW to Panesar, especially when one considers the bounce and turn that he was achieving.
After Ashwell Prince was caught by wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose off James Anderson, South Africa were in trouble on 93 for 4. The victory target looked a long way away. AB de Villiers, however helped steady the ship by making 27 in a partnership of 78 with Smith.
When he was dismissed with the total on 171, a further 110 runs were still required for victory. Mark Boucher joined Smith in the middle. Demonstrating his well-documented fighting ability, he gave Smith the support he needed.
Together they advanced the South African score to within sight of the victory target. With England’s bowlers tiring, Smith then claimed an extra half-an-hour of play so that the Proteas could, hopefully, score the runs they needed to win.
He and Boucher made it look easy in difficult conditions and the captain, fittingly, struck the winning runs to wrap up the win. It has been a remarkable performance; England had thrown everything they could at him, but Smith had provided an answer to every question.
The only thing he was unable to do was to wipe the grin off his face after the series victory was claimed; even some time after the game, the big smile and shining eyes would not go away. Smith and his team were, obviously, ecstatic.
While South Africa’s star appears to be on the rise, the defeat left England in disarray. On Sunday, England captain Michael Vaughan announced that he was stepping down from his post with immediate effect. Paul Collingwood also vacated his position as captain of the England one-day international team.
Ironically, the solution, most pundits believe, lies with South Africa; SA-born Kevin Pietersen is the favourite to take over as captain in both forms of the game.
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