Yesterday I asked the question whether England had the gumption to dig in and save this game. The answer was ‘sort of’. We didn’t exactly surrender meekly but South Africa have tightened their grip on this contest nevertheless.
I can’t really blame our batsmen though (generally speaking). South Africa bowled very well. Rabada in particular was immense. He’s really mature for one so young. His approach is actually quite innocuous but the pace he generates is electric at times. Just as young Anakin Skywalker had midichlorians to burn, I suspect Rabada has fast-twitch fibres coming out of his ears. Rabada’s Dad was doing the Lambada in the aisles.
So where did it all go wrong for England? For starters conditions conspired against us somewhat. When the sun was out yesterday it looked liked a very good pitch for batting. However, as happens at Headingley, it was a rather different prospect when today’s cloud cover arrived. We also saw a little more inconsistent bounce.
Facing Morkel and Rabada is a rather different prospect in gloomy conditions with the artificial lights on. I still think it’s a decent surface – 480 plays 340 tells its own story – but if the wicket continues to deteriorate then we’ll probably need the weather to save us. Apparently the forecast for the next two days could be better.
I guess some will criticise our batsmen for failing to build on decent starts – all of the top nine except Bairstow made double figures but failed to covert – but I think we should give South Africa some credit. As I said yesterday, England really needed a big innings from Cook. Unfortunately however, Morkel produced an excellent ball to dismiss him. Poor Jonny Bairstow, so often our saviour with the bat in this series, also received a snorter. Only James Taylor threw his wicket away needlessly.
At the end of the day, South Africa are outplaying us in this match. Whereas our batsmen have got in and got out, three of their top seven went on to make hundreds. And their bowlers have produced wicket taking deliveries when needed. Perhaps the only real bright spot for England today was the performance of Moeen Ali, who played beautifully. He needed some runs, so his 61 was most welcome.
England are still just about in this game, so perhaps we shouldn’t write the obituary yet, but it’s not looking great is it. I suppose the big question is whether England switched off after winning the series? Personally I think complacency / fatigue (call it what you like) might have played a small role, but sometimes you’ve just got to accept when you’ve been second best. South Africa are belatedly showing that they’re a good side at home, even without Dale Steyn.
As for England, we’re clearly not the finished article yet. However, we’ve certainly come a long way as a team and there’s no disgrace in losing the odd test after three good performances.
PS In other news, a certain Kevin Pietersen scored 74 off just 39 balls in the Big Bash Final today. The Melbourne Stars’ team spirit and general sense of camaraderie obviously wasn’t quite good enough though, as they lost by three wickets.